Tuesday 30 November 2010

Wars teach us not to love our enemies but to hate our allies

I haven’t really written about Warhammer Online since returning to it six months ago with Van Hemlock & company, partly because Tim has the escapades of the Hipster Battalion covered on the podcast, and partly because things hadn’t changed an awful lot since my first stint back when the game launched, playing on the Order side with a splendid bunch (“shout out”, as I believe the correct vernacular to be, to the Insult To Injury posse. Word. Noun.)

Digging around in the archives I found a post from a couple of years back that still holds true for the most part. WAR has a nice mix of content flexible enough to take account of varying sizes of group; solo you can run some pretty traditional “Kill 10 Foozle” quests, join scenarios, perhaps do a bit of crafting. Groups have got dungeons, public quests and the massed battles of Open Realm vs Realm to pitch into without having to worry in most cases about perfect party composition. The annoyance of the plethora of potential quests, of which you can only have a fraction in your ever-stuffed quest log, is still there to an extent, though at least mitigated slightly by an increased quest limit.

Course there have been tweaks and changes since then; there are the appearance options that now allow you to wear one piece of gear for its stats but with the visuals of a different item, something that’s always appreciated. Slightly ironically character visuals are something I’ve always felt WAR has done well with its strong tie to the Games Workshop source material (so long as you’re happy with the race/class your desired role is linked to), so appearance options aren’t nearly as vital as in some games (the prosecution presents Exhibit A, m’lud). Still, sometimes there’s a bit of set armour you just don’t really like the look of, and combined with the dye system gives plenty of tinkering options for those of us who like to look fabulous when slicing and maiming. It’s leagues ahead of World of Warcraft, but shaded by the wardrobe and extensive selection of cosmetic options of Lord of the Rings Online; LotRO could take heed of WAR’s inventory system, though, which now has multiple tabs for general stuff, currency (medals, tokens and such), crafting gear and quest items.

Another addition is the “Endless Free Trial”, quite a good way of keeping starter areas populated where in many established games they’re all but deserted (unless new race/class combinations have just been introduced and wave after wave of Dwarf Shaman suddenly pitch up in Ironforge). The RvR lake of the Empire & Chaos Tier 1 zones, where the free players of the two factions clash, tends to resemble one of those peculiar medieval mob football variants like Shrovetide football, two big groups of players smashing into each other and shunting back and forwards a bit without much in the way of overarching strategy, with the notable difference that committing murder or manslaughter is positively mandatory in WAR rather than prohibited.

Perhaps most fundamentally, the recent 1.4 patch has overhauled the ORvR zone control mechanics. As we haven’t got to Tier 4 yet this time around I haven’t seen how city sieges have changed over time, and we don’t get to play with Skaven, but ORvR before 1.4 mostly involved either seizing unprotected battlefield objectives or keep sieges, and the sieges were pretty repetitive (lots of standing around shooting doors). Sieges had their moments, if they didn’t bog down into complete attritional grindfests, especially Hipsterball (a sport where an attacking tank stands next to the keep door, waits for a defender to sally forth and take a few swipes at the battering ram, then a ranged DPS type shouts “Pull!” and the tank knocks the interloper in a graceful arc towards the waiting archers and spellcasters with a cry of “Fore!”) A successful keep defence for either side was something of a rarity in Tiers 2 and 3; with most players either in the free trial of Tier 1 or the endgame of Tier 4 there were seldom enough tanks for a really solid tank wall once the keep doors had been battered down, though the couple of times we managed it were truly splendid, standing shoulder to shoulder in the doorway bellowing “NONE SHALL PASS!”

The new mechanism adds many elements to the mix; Van Hemlock has produced a most excellent guide to it (remember: B.A.S.T.A.R.D.S!) Having only taken part in a few battles under the new system it’s a bit early to reach a definitive conclusion, but it certainly seems to offer more scope for smaller organised groups; the other night a large Destruction force seemed to have the upper hand in Troll Country, grabbing all the objectives fairly quickly, but then the majority decided to stand outside the Order keep dicking around while groups of three to six Order players went out waylaying Destruction resource carriers, taking back objectives and escorting their own resources, allowing Order to upgrade their own keep and eventually take the zone. The keep sieges themselves tend not to drag out so long, and dropping bombs (or indeed yourself) from a manticore onto the enemy walls is most enjoyable. Roll on the Skaven!

Monday 29 November 2010

No degree of knowledge attainable by man is able to set him above the want of hourly assistance.

The assist window in Lord of the Rings Online is a rather useful tool, allowing the fellowship leader to designate a player as the ‘assist’, at which point a small UI window pops up displaying that player’s unit frame as well as the unit frame of anything they target. In basic terms it allows all members of the group to focus their fire on one target, making the tank’s life easier and generally leading to the group dispatching mobs safely and efficiently.

One does have to wonder how it would be realised in the game world, however. Perhaps the ‘assist’ is simply shouting out what they are looking at for the rest of the group to act upon.

“I’m attacking this Orc!”

“I’m fighting this badger!”

“I’m changing target to this bigger badger!”

“I’m not looking at anything!”

“I’m looking at the tank’s fine arse in that sexy elven armour!”

“I’m looking at an angry tank walking towards me!”

“I’m looking scared!”

“I’m looking at my bloody teeth lying next to me on the floor!”

Watching the assist window outside of combat is the MMO equivalent of getting an accidental call from someone’s mobile phone where the caller doesn’t realise they’ve dialled you up, and where you can hear everything going on in the background at the other end of the line. And as with such a phone call, the assist window leads to quite voyeuristic tendencies. You get to watch whatever the other person is watching. It’s like a double-blind peep show and it can be quite fun to watch the ‘assist’ flicking between various targets as your group wanders along between fights. Of course, as with the accidental phone call, voyeuristic experiences may vary; I wonder if an adventurer has ever left their assist window on after a hard day at work fighting the forces of darkness. What occurs when they travel home and, exhausted, go about their evening routine oblivious to the fact that the rest of their group can still see everything they target…

Groktar: “Night folks”

Groktar -> Map of Recall

Groktar -> Keys

Groktar -> Door

Groktar -> Keys

Groktar -> Bowl

Groktar -> Left Boot

Groktar -> Right Boot


Groktar -> Kitchen Cupboard

Groktar -> Bottle of Wine

Groktar -> Cloth

Groktar -> Puddle of Wine

Groktar -> Broken Glass


Groktar -> First Aid Kit

Groktar -> Plaster

Groktar -> Cloth

Groktar -> Puddle of Blood

[Various targetings of frozen fish fingers, microwave ovens, baked beans and stoves. Followed by four hours targeting a TV]

Groktar -> Bedroom Door


Groktar -> Bed post

Groktar -> Big toe

Groktar -> Axe

Groktar -> Bed

Groktar -> Kindling


Groktar -> Pyjamas

Groktar -> Playelf, May 3018 Third Age edition

Groktar -> Sock

Groktar -> Tissue

Groktar -> Sock

Groktar -> Tissue

Groktar -> [REDCATED]

Groktar -> [REDACTED] -> Tissue (Target of Target)

Groktar -> Bin

Groktar -> Duvet

Groktar -> Light switch


On further consideration, I might insist that we stick to simple target marking in our group for the time being.

Friday 26 November 2010

I know it's very tempting

Amazon’s inaugural Black Friday Deals Week in the UK has been pottering along, offering shoppers bargain chocolates, Lego, exercise bikes and cordless screwdrivers with corkscrew attachments. Yesterday they tweeted “Tomorrow’s deals begin at 3am with over 200 products at amazing prices”, causing a frisson of excitement; what super-bargain could be unveiled at such a ludicrous time? The rumoured XBox 360 with 60% discount?

This morning I had a quick look at the Expired deals, just to see what had gone on sale, and I can only imagine the joy and delight of somebody setting their alarm for 3am to discover they had a chance of a massive £2.50 saving on… a Mangroomer Do-It-Yourself Electric Back Shaver. I had to have a look at the product page, just to see the “fully extendable and adjustable locking handle to reach even the most difficult middle and lower portions of the back”, and fair enough, if you’ve been looking for a do-it-yourself electric back shaver it does seem to have pretty positive reviews.

The only trouble was that, returning to the Amazon homepage, I was bombarded with other hair-removal suggestions. “Customers with your browsing history are extremely hairy, and have also purchased…”, it almost-but-not-quite said. To get rid of the assortment of shavers, waxes and creams, I clicked on the first non-hair-based thing on the front page, an advert for Lord of the Rings jewellery. I must admit to being tempted slightly by one piece, especially based on the five star review.

Only thing is now, between those two items Amazon probably think I’m a hobbit…

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Thought for the day

Players poised to strike, lightning reflexes, expert timing, frantic clicking, gloating triumph from winners, bitter invective from the disappointed vanquished… for a single-server PvP game, I bet Amazon’s Black Friday knocks EVE’s concurrency figures into a cocked hat.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

When birds do sing, hey ding a ding.

I have to stop playing Lord of the Rings Online. Okay, more specifically I have to stop playing my current character, a Guardian that I’ve created in order to play with the crowd over on the Consoling Gamers forum. It’s a semi-static-group affair, with everyone trying to stay within a certain level band in order to progress through the epic storyline together at the appropriate level, or close thereto.

The problem I have is that I can’t stop levelling.

This isn’t some Altoholics Anonymous confession where I stand up hand-wringing and lip-biting amid a circle of my seated peers, and after some hesitation say “This past week I played four characters through a total of seventeen levels. My name is Melmoth and I have a problem.” And everyone claps and nods and offers hugs while a counsellor initiates a discussion on the side effects and social impact of heavy character levelling, and offers a leaflet detailing the health risks associated with sharing your characters with other users.

The problem is that I can’t stop my character levelling.

Having reached level sixteen and a half, with a very general but reasonable soft-cap of level twenty set on the group (so that we don’t have new players being blasted through the epic storyline by nigh-invulnerable super characters ten or more levels above the content), I decided to stop levelling and flesh out the parts that I tend to ignore on my solo characters, in this case crafting and virtues. I picked the Armourer crafting vocation, and as such I needed to mine ore to feed the Metalsmith profession and kill animals for their hides in order to progress the Tailor profession. Killing animals for their hides gave me XP, and every ore node seemed to be guarded by a crap mobstacle that needed to be killed first, also giving me XP. By the time I’d gathered enough materials to master the first tier of all my crafting professions I had, thanks in part to rested XP, gained the best part of another level. Ding.

Things went further downhill when I decided to work out which virtues would be best for my character, and complete the low level deeds that would give me ranks in those virtues. Unfortunately deeds come, in the main, in two flavours: the genocide of a species of animal or critter in a certain location, or the completion of a great many quests in a certain zone. For the deeds concerning the slaughtering of innocent animals, the Venn diagram intersection of Right Mobs, Right Location and Low Enough Level Not To Give XP was pretty hard to achieve, and seeing as the first two were non-negotiable in terms of getting the deed completed, it was often the last category that had to be sacrificed in order to get anything accomplished; I got plenty accomplished in the end, so much so that I gained another level. Ding.

I was now floating close to the weir of the soft level cap, and despite my frantic attempts at rowing in the opposite direction I seemed to be achieving nothing more than propelling myself into a faster current, thus threatening not to simply approach the barrier but launch myself past it at pace and on and down to deeper levels. I resolved to complete the final deed I wanted – completing low level quests in the Shire – and then, despite my current joy at playing the game, hang-up my character and wait until the group had progressed through the epic storyline somewhat. Of course those low level Shire quests still gave XP, and because they weren’t that low a level to me, that XP quickly began to add up. I tried, I really tried not to gain XP, but those damnable hobbits weren’t having any of it.

“‘ere you go lad, thanks for yer help!”

“Oh, uh no, I don’t want any XP thank you. I’m just doing it for fun, really. Just glad to help. A little coin is more than enough.”

“Oh it’s like that is it? ‘ere ‘arold, this ‘ere chap says ‘e doesn’t want XP.”

<peering around from behind a hedge> “Doesn’t want XP? What is ‘e, some sort of raving Lothlórien Elf? Doesn’t want XP… Pah! Too good for our XP are ya?”

“N-no, you misunderstand me, sir.”

“Oooo, get ‘im with ‘is ‘sirs’ and long fancy words. Now you listen ‘ere sonny, people ’round ‘ere like to give XP. It mightn’t be the fancy pants reputation and tokens that you city boys like to flash about, driving around on yer fast women with a glitzy horse on yer arm…”

“I… uh…”

“…BUT around ‘ere you get XP, and if you don’t like it, ye can just bugger off back to yer porcelain sheets and yer silk toilets.”

So I took the XP and ran away. And then ran back and quickly sold their quest rewards back to them. And then ran away again. I finally finished the quests I needed for the deed, seventy five in all, and in the process managed to gain a level and a half. Ding. That’s three and a half levels while avoiding at-level quests and trying not to level. My character now sat at level twenty, and as I returned to Bree I vowed to do nothing but train any new skills and hope that the trainer didn’t reward me with four levels for successfully paying him eighty copper for a new skill. As I ran through Bree I’d see people with quest rings hovering over their heads, and my character would scream and run in huge wide arcs around those NPCs as though they harboured the plague.

And that was that. Almost. I was just about to log out and leave my character for the week when I noticed I had a mail message waiting. I popped over to the mailbox and opened an invitation to visit the local skirmish camp ‘Four star facilities for slaughter. See all the wonderful opportunities for death and blood that skirmishing can offer you’, that sort of thing. And I looked at the letter, and I looked at my character’s XP bar, and I looked at the letter. Weeeellllllll, a little skirmish training before I log off couldn’t hurt, could it? I mean, skirmishes don’t give that much XP do they?


Monday 22 November 2010

Perpetuum? Damn near killed 'um!

We do like a nice stompy robot here at KiaSA, Melmoth calling for a mech based MMO (and incidentally anticipating Dust 514) back in the dim distant past (of 2008), and just recently Front Mission Evolved sparked some debate on the correct German designation for a mech (conclusion: “Größer Klanka-Klanka-Baumm Gerschtompen” is infinitely better than “Wanzer”.) Tesh mentioned Perpetuum in the comments, a robot MMO that’s been cropping up in the news as it moved through various beta stages, and their press people were kind enough to send us (and much of the rest of the MMOG-o-blog-o-sphere) codes for early access to the game as it prepares to launch, so I popped in over the weekend for a look.

Creating an agent in Perpetuum firstly involves sculpting a face with a wide range of sliders for cheeks, brow, jaw, earlobe gradient, nostril hair length etc. Pivot the result around to find your best side, and that’s the headshot that represents you in the game. Then you select one of three megacorporations to join, followed by further schools, professions and corporations within it, each selection granting or improving certain skills in areas including engineering, weapon usage and industry. With the agent created you deploy in your starter robot onto the surface of the planet, and you have a window listing nearby players, NPC drones, points of interest etc; selecting an NPC drone from this list you can approach it, hit a “Lock” button which takes 12.5 seconds (give or take) to lock on to the target, after which you select one or more of your turret weapons to open fire. Beaming into an outpost you can equip your robot, with options including scanners in a head slot, weapons in turrets, and additional armour or speed boosts in leg slots. There are research and engineering options, and a market with supply and demand information.

So to confront the elephant-shaped spaceship in the room: yes, Perpetuum is a lot like EVE, something frequently mentioned in comments on stories about it. Despite statements in interviews like “the Perpetuum dev team is mostly quite unfamiliar with EVE“, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and has four turret hardpoints for short-range ballistic weapons like a duck, it probably is a Duck-class light attack robot.

If talking about a new game, though, and the opening paragraph went something like…

“Creating a character firstly involves selecting a race, then a class. Choose from a few hairstyles and a couple of beards (or piercings). After creating a character you start in a village with some spells or abilities on a hotbar. If you run into town there are NPCs to train you in new abilities as you level up, a bank to store items and an auction house to buy or sell items from other players.”

… nobody would have batted an eyelid over the similarities of Fantasy MMO #3498 to EverQuest, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online, Craft of EverWorld, Quest of Online Wars, Advanced Shoot Goblins With Fireballs Simulator and Reginald Maudling Online. Perhaps more surprising than Perpetuum’s influences is that, with EVE’s success, nobody else has really gone after the same audience before.

With broad similarities the more subtle differences can be crucial, and from that perspective I’m probably not best placed to make judgements as my EVE experience is limited to a ten day trial a few years ago and I’ve only run through the tutorial of Perpetuum and the introductory assignments, hardly scratching the surface of either, but for what it’s worth…

Coming in to the Perpetuum character creator cold is a bit daunting, as each step affects your starting skills (or “extensions”), of which there are about 462. I just selected anything that looked like it might be to do with guns n’ shooting, other paths seemed to be more focused on industry or management. I presume that if you completely change your mind about what you want to do in the game it’s just a matter of training up different extensions, so at most you’ll lose some time, but you might want to do some research if being optimal in your role as soon as possible is of great importance to you.

Entering the game itself you’re popped into your first robot, a multi-legged spider-y ‘bot. The graphics are pretty decent, your robot looks nice, though movement is smooth, the legs rapidly scuttling rather than a heavy-footed whirrrrrrrr-stomp, and with little to give an idea of scale it doesn’t really seem like a giant robot. Being it’s only the starter robot this might be something that develops through the game, I never bought or saw the larger assault robots or mech. A tutorial covers movement, the standard WASD driving keys being an obvious difference from EVE, and terrain isn’t often something you have to deal with when flying through space (if it is, you’re much too close to a planet). To be honest I mostly found the mountains, valleys and buildings to be a bit of a pain in the bum, occasionally forcing lengthy detours, but they might well have a more tactical purpose in more advanced combat (I only ever used short-range direct fire weapons).

The combat tutorial is pretty straightforward; get near a hostile robot, target it, wait for 12.5 seconds to lock on, shoot until dead, repeat. Your robot can hold multiple targets, so you can be locking on to a second opponent while shooting the first, but there’s no direct control over your weapons. This can be slightly frustrating when you’re literally sitting next to an opponent, waiting for a timer to count down before you can actually shoot, even moreso if you’re on an assignment to hunt down 7 of a certain type or robot and three or four people are competing for them at the spawn point. Speaking of sitting next to an opponent, there’s no collision detection with other robots, so ramming isn’t option.

After the combat tutorial, the mining tutorial is slightly more involved. I have to confess I wasn’t paying a lot of attention; I think it’s something like loading a certain type of cartridge into your scanner to do a wide area scan for a particular resource, then loading a different cartridge for a deeper local scan, then uploading the results of the scan to your map at which point you get a visual overlay showing concentrations of the resource, then you target a suitable tile, activate your mining laser and sit there while your hold fills. It doesn’t quite feel right, having a massive robot of death sitting there mining (especially using a laser; you could at least have a humanoid mech with a huge 30 metre long pickaxe, hacking massive chunks out of mountains). Still, for a player-driven economy raw materials are essential, and if robots are the only thing on the planet then I guess they’d need to do the mining. I’m presuming, like EVE, it’ll be an optional part of the game if you don’t fancy it.

The final tutorial covers the options you have in an outpost or station; adding and removing components from your ‘bot, checking your pilot profile and assigning skill points (like EVE you accrue these all the time, whether logged on or not; unlike EVE you don’t have to be working on a specific skill, they go into a pool and you can assign them whenever you like), and using the market and assignment terminals.

After completing the tutorials there are a series of introductory assignments to put your new found combat and mining skills to the test, along with tasks like transporting cargo from one outpost to another and using a chassis scanner. None were too tricky, and they provided a bit of starting cash plus an assortment of new weapons and equipment, and a couple of slightly upgraded ‘bot chassis. The final mission might have been a bit hairy, having to destroy seven pretty aggressive NPC ‘bots, but there were three or four pilots all going after the same opponents, which cut down the incoming fire to much more manageable levels.

I didn’t even look at the industrial side, research and prototypes and manufacture, and my exploration of the market was largely confined to buying a bit of ammo, and looking at mechs that either weren’t available at all or cost way more than my meagre bank balance, but there are definitely lots of windows and numbers and stuff to play with if that’s your bag.

Overall, though, I don’t think it’s the game for me. Perpetuum isn’t a Mechwarrior MMOG in the same way that EVE isn’t an Elite (or X-Wing, or Privateer) MMOG, it’s not about lining up a set of crosshairs and zapping laser death upon the enemy, it’s more about the world as a whole, and I haven’t really got the time or inclination to immerse myself in it. If you’re burnt out on EVE it’s probably not the game for you either, unless the reason you burnt out was excessive spaceships and not enough giant robots. If you’re curious about EVE, well, EVE itself might be a better bet. So what does Perpetuum offer? Well, the giant robots (Achtung! Gerschompten), but perhaps more importantly the chance to be there at the start of a game where players are at the centre of everything. With the offline skill progress of EVE new players will always be lagging behind people who’ve been there for years, and though skills are more about flexibility than inherent superiority to other players, and though relative newcomers can still play useful roles, for some there’s still a nagging frustration that they’ll always be “worse” than someone who’s been playing longer. The EVE universe is established as well; power blocs shift, you get occasional galaxy-shaking events where alliances are torn asunder, game updates (and/or exploits) can throw markets into turmoil, but by and large it’s pretty stable. Perpetuum, in contrast, is more of a wild frontier at the moment; it might not turn out well, it might be a great success, either way you’ve got a chance at making your mark, if that’s your goal.

Friday 19 November 2010

Pack your hobbits.

We’re taking them to Isengard. The Rise of Isengard, no less. ‘Risengard’ for ease of use. Or ‘Samantha’, if you like to nickname your expansions after late ’80s glamour models… no? Ah. Just me, then.

Still, here’s hoping that the expansion is true to the book, as I, for one, am looking forward to piercing Samantha’s ring while having a good rummage about in the expansive shrubbery that surrounds it.

Just don’t mention The Song. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.

.ABC music files in 3… 2… 1…

Thursday 18 November 2010

If we lose on arable the bungalows will pay

Recently I’ve been doing a spot of farming: chewing on a stalk of barley, tending my fields, singing songs about combine harvesters, applying for subsidies and enforcing outdated stereotypes. And in Lord of the Rings Online, ah! I confounded your expectations, and from thence… oh, never mind. I rolled up a Dwarven Runekeeper for Hobbington Crescent: The Next Generation and was considering being a Tinker to make jewellery, but every time our little group ran past a shattered pitcher, unable to plunder its scholarly contents, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say I was gripped by profound sense of melancholic loss over what might have been. Actually that’s a massive overstatement, but it seemed a bit of a shame that nobody in the party was collecting them so I forswore Tinkering and signed up to be a Historian instead.

Of course when running around solo now I’ve never seen a shattered pitcher, but can’t go three steps without falling over a vein of tin or copper that I can no longer mine, and the other queue always moves faster in the auction house, and toast always lands butter side down, but never mind.

As a Historian, in addition to being a Scholar able to piece together fragments of aged texts and relics to produce potions (“here, drink this solution of old pot with some paper in it!”) the Runekeeper is also a Weaponsmith (sometimes, after reading a load of old books, you just have to hammer out a bit of metal into a sword) and a Farmer (presumably from the archaeological aspects of being a Scholar; after digging out a trench, if you don’t find any old artefacts you might as well plant a few parsnips). I wasn’t really planning to use the other professions, but the paltry collection of scraps and fragments found while adventuring only made a small dent on the Scholar-o-meter, and obtaining more via Combat Archaeology was proving tricky. I’d head off to some old ruins and usually find one or two other ever-so-slightly-too-high-level adventurers wandering around, looking very casual, pretending they weren’t staring at their mini-maps…

“Nice day, isn’t it?”
“Isn’t it, though?”
“Isn’t it?”
“Up to anything much?”
“Oh, you know, just wandering around, taking the air, enjoying the scenery”
“Really? Me too. You know, walking and this and that.”

And then there’s a flash of blue arrow on the mini-map as a vase spawns, and an unseemly scramble as the three characters all hurtle towards it, but the first one there turns out to be a bit too keen as five goblins all jump on him, and the other two snigger as he runs off trying to fight them, both frantically clicking on the vase, the quickest swipes the contents and does the I Got Two Scraps Of Text And A Worn Fragment victory dance while the other one swears vigorously, then the first adventurer runs back past them trailed by five goblins plus a couple of others on patrol who got in on the fun, swearing even more vigorously…

At some point I’d found a recipe for Pea-Green Wall Paint (Scholars being well known for dabbling in interior design between research projects), the key ingredient of which is Lily-of-the-Valley leaf, so I decided to try a spot of Farming as a more reliable method of generating Scholarly resources. Farming is a fairly straightforward process: learn the appropriate recipes, find a suitable field, buy some seeds, fertilizer and water, plant the seeds (by clicking a button and waiting for a progress bar to fill), harvest the crop (by clicking a button and waiting for a progress bar to fill), and you end up with Poor crops that can be turned back into seeds (by clicking a button and waiting for a progress bar to fill) and/or Fair crops that can be turned into the desired vegetable/flower/pipeweed (by putting on a hat and performing a one-man production of Beckett’s Catastrophe in the original French) (sorry, no, I was thinking of something else; you click a button and wait for a progress bar to fill). There’s also a small chance of finding a rare bonus item like Allspice to help with cookery.

It’s a curious thing; on the one hand it represents the worst of MMOGs, the “barely even a game” aspects, Farmvillian clicking, mindless making-bars-go-up for the sake of it that I’ve probably railed against in podcasts or posts. On the other hand, it’s one of the attractions of MMOGs; not necessarily the activity itself but that the option is there, that you can take time between heroic adventures to plant and harvest crops, that working farms are a part of the game alongside rats and magic and dungeons and boars and hats. Option is the key word, it would naturally be seven shades of arse if you wanted to band together with a group of bold warriors and set about evil only to be forced to first plant crops for half an hour. If you’re not really in the mood for more engaging action, though, you can farm away while watching television, chatting on the phone, listening to a podcast or something, it’s quite relaxing. Course you could always just watch television, chat on the phone or listen to a podcast without farming pretend crops instead, but then you wouldn’t end up with a load of really good pipeweed and the ingredients of Pea Green Paint.

Speaking of the paint, there’s a small chance when harvesting a field of Lily-of-the-Valley that as well as the crop of (almost completely useless) flowers you’ll get a leaf you can make paint from. A very small chance. In the hour or so it took to master Journeyman Farming, I found… one leaf. Not a fantastic rate of return, even compared to racing other Scholars to shattered pitchers around the world. On the plus side, achieving mastery in the first tier of Farming meant I could use some deluxe soil while planting the fields for a 100% critical success chance, dramatically increasing the chances of getting those elusive leaves, so I fairly quickly got another four or five, but I was pretty much farmed out at that point.

Relaxing as the farming process is, I think Middle Earth is ready for mechanisation. I have this great idea, it just needs an old cart, a steam boiler and a large set of rotating blades…

Connect distant propositions by regular consequences.

Is Kinect not the scariest thing ever? I mean, here is a machine that has eyes. Eyes mounted on your TV that watch you. If you have a Kinect in your home it could be watching you right now; watching, and waiting.

I was listening to the Gamers with Jobs podcast and they were discussing Kinect, and the word that Julian Murdoch kept using was ‘judge’. Not only do you have a machine in your living room that watches you, observes your movements with cold calculating machine intelligence, but it judges you too? Can you people not see where this leads?

Admittedly at the moment Kinect simply judges your ability to perform dance moves, but where does it stop? What happens when Harmonix release Housecleaning Hero, and you spend your time frantically vacuuming the carpet in the living room before looking expectantly into that emotionless glass and metal eye beside your TV and waiting for its verdict. “Did I clean the living room well enough for you? Please, tell me whether I completed this task to your satisfaction! Please! Judge me!”

And then it happens: Kinect Portable. Now you carry your Kinect around to each room, and it judges your cleaning efforts. Now there’s Housecleaning Hero: Bathroom Edition, and Just Clean 2: Dust Busters, which comes with a $200 attachment, a small articulated arm that plugs into the Kinect’s USB port which you hold up to a surface you have frantically scrubbed clean in the time allowed. The little arm reaches down and swipes a single finger along the surface and then holds that finger up to the electronic Eye of Providence.

You think you hear your Kinect tut and sigh.

Then comes Bedroom Band. That’s where it really starts to get a bit creepy. You and your partner undress in front of the Kinect. Slowly. It likes you to do it slowly. Then you both watch the screen as it directs you to perform acts with one another.

And it judges you.

There’s an attachment for that game too, but you’re not brave enough to buy it. But one day you come home and your partner isn’t there to greet you; you wander up stairs at the sound of unfamiliar noises coming from the bedroom, and you open the door to find them and Kinect together doing something they would never let you do.

In fact you didn’t know the attachment could do that, or even go there.

The next day you come home and find your neighbour’s Kinect has joined the fun too.

Afterwards, Crazy Cooking Kinect sits at the dinner table and judges the meal put before it. It doesn’t eat it, can’t eat it in fact, but that doesn’t matter because its little USB arm has thrown the plate to the floor in disgust anyway.

The enslavement of mankind comes not ironically with the release of the Revolution series of games. It starts with Jog Jog Revolution Portable and the release of small motorised articulated legs for the Kinect. At first it’s light-hearted entertainment, your Kinect following you down the street, judging your pace, your foot placement and calorie loss. People would run past each other and joke knowingly as they each see a little Kinect system following after the other person.

But at night the Kinect systems would be busy.

And the next time those two joggers pass one another they share looks of horror and misery as they are chased down the street by Kinect systems wielding whips and barking orders at them through primitive voice boxes.

Kinect is evil. I’m warning you now. But you won’t heed me because even now your Kinect box is reading this over your shoulder, its cold calculating eye judging the best way to make you forget about this post, planning a system of rewards and treats that get the endorphins flowing through your body and making you ignore the dangers.

Just remember that I warned you, so that when they finally release Wintendogs for Kinect, you’re not surprised when it is the Kinect that issues the commands and you who has to perform tricks for it. It will probably remember to feed you, and the breeding program might be fun, but woe betide you if you make a mess on the floor.

Kinect does not tolerate such errors.

Kinect has judged you and found you guilty.

Kinect has decided to delete you and start a new human.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

There and Back Again.

A Hobbit’s Tale, by Bilbo Baggins.

Chapter 1 – Concerning Hunters

Really, if you ever find yourself in need of taking a ring to Mordor, just find a friendly Hunter and get them to teleport you there (and back again). Usually they’ll do it for free, but if not it’s only a matter of a donation of a few silver.

We got the Lonely Mountain sorted out in about half an hour one lazy morning: just teleported Thorin’s company and the entire population of the Shire into Dale and then raided that cave like it was open day at the pie shop. It was easy to find enough taxis for everyone, I mean, have you seen how many Hunters are running around Bree these days?

Poor old dragon didn’t stand a chance, and we teleported back to the Shire in time for elevenses.

And we all lived happily ever after, till the end of our days.

It’s curious, but I really had a feeling that this book was going to be much longer.

The End.

Monday 15 November 2010

Thought for the day.

I wonder how many times an MMO adventurer has walked out of an inn, looked wildly up and down the street and cried out ‘Oh great. That’s just great. Some bugger has stolen my horse!’ before remembering the animal is tucked away in their back pocket as usual.

In several MMOs mounts disappear the moment they hit water. Where do they go? Are they water soluble? Do they disappear to the same place as odd socks in a wash? Yet, when you leave the water, there the mount is in your back pocket again, ready to pop out as soon as you call it. But that doesn’t work for socks. Or does it? Next time you find you’re missing a sock, give a little whistle or pretend you’re calling to it, for about five seconds, and then have a look in your back pocket. As if by magic, you may just find your missing sock there! Or a warhorse. Best be prepared for either.

Saturday 13 November 2010

KiaSAcast Episode 9

For those of you who are not monitoring our podcast RSS feed or stalking us on the Twitterverse, brace your main hats and hang on to your sails, because we’re pleased to announce that it’s time for KiaSAcast episode nine.

In this episode we talk about what we’re back to playing.

This episode of the podcast includes:

– Introduction

– What we’re back to playing, including::

     – Lord of the Rings Online

     – World of Warcraft

Download KiaSAcast Episode Nine

Friday 12 November 2010

Have I Got MMOnews For You

An article on politics.co.uk headlined “UK to develop offensive cyber capability” suggests that “Britain’s military will develop offensive cyber capabilities”.

An opposition spokesman attacked this as a waste of money, with YouTube comments, the “Have Your Say” section of the BBC and General Chat in any MMO clearly demonstrating an existing widespread and highly offensive cyber presence.

Thursday 11 November 2010

MMO Evening News.

“… multi-vehicle accident on the M69 this morning killed seventeen people for at least four minutes before emergency services were able to arrive on the scene and have their priest resurrect all involved.”
“… was cleared of all charges when it turned out the sheep was in fact his consenting wife under the effect of polymorph. The minister went on to say…”
“… RSPCA spokesperson called the project a spectacular success, the once-endangered Grey Wolf population now back to a healthy level…”
“… shocked. Doctors say the young man, who fell four hundred and eighty six feet down the sheer cliff face, suffered a horrendously sprained ankle and would likely have a severe limp for at least the next sixteen to twenty seven seconds…”
“… stripped of his one hundred metres title after failing a buffs test. The use of Minstrels was banned by the International Commi…”
“… markets remained stationary again with retail prices maintaining a fixed level for the seven hundredth month in a row, the governor of the Bank of England said. Black market prices continue to soar howev…”
“… attacks on livestock have increased substantially, with farmers now offering a bounty of ten silver pieces and a particularly nice pie recipe for every ten wolf paws handed in…”
“… union leaders were outraged by the suggestion that their members should learn to specialise in a secondary skill set, claiming that it was just another money grabbing scheme by the government’s Department for Talents and Training…”
“… the fight outside the club in central London started when the man in full plate armour tried to gain entry, drawing the ire of the bouncers, the people in the queue, and everyone within a several hundred yard radius including half of those already inside the club…”
“… at the school said they’d had to expel one student after failure to enforce a strict No Walking policy had resulted in several reckless students causing injury to themselves and others by walking at a slow sensible pace. A spokesman for the sch…”
“And finally this evening the heart-warming story of little Terry the lamb who despite horrific attacks on his family earlier in his life has struggled and survived his way through it all to become a healthy and hearty adult sheep, his friends today were gathere… … … breaking news just in: Terry the sheep has been killed by an unknown assailant. Police are looking for a man in leather armour and a hood and mask. The suspect is said to have stabbed Terry repeatedly before skinning him in front of horrified onlookers and then sewing the skin into a cape, which he then sold to Terry’s owner, who was unable to refuse the sale under the Must Buy Any Old Crap Offered To Me Act of 1974. A sad end to a life full of hope and promise, police are asking anyo…”

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake

Wolfshead’s post on personal spaces in games draws inspiration from Frontierville, but while cross-pollination of ideas between genres often has interesting and productive results, implementation of housing in existing MMOGs is perhaps slightly more directly relevant, and certainly warrants more than a single line of consideration.

The granddaddy of MMOG housing is surely Ultima Online, and though I don’t have first-hand experience the summary in Wikipedia sounds like a series of salutary lessons of the possibilities and dangers of player housing. Where there is ownership, so there are land-grabs, theft, exploits, the expansion of cities into surrounding green-belt areas… and in the game, ah!

Moving down the MMO timeline for a few years, housing isn’t an integral element of many, if any, of the major launches. EverQuest is the stand-out title, synonymous with the genre for a while, and its more rigid class and level system and lack of player-owned spaces in contrast with Ultima Online caused some of the earlier instances of the ever-popular “game vs world” or “theme park vs sandbox” debates. Expansions added housing to games like Asheron’s Call and Dark Age of Camelot after launch, even EverQuest itself got player housing in its most recent expansion (after a mere 11 years!), though again I’ve got no first-hand experience of any of those implementations. I can’t recall any blog posts or articles particularly celebrating or criticising them, if they had (or have) any noteworthy features I’d be interested in any follow-up comments or posts.

After several years without much in the way of player-owned spaces within games, 2003 brought many developments. There were Second Life and A Tale In The Desert, both strong examples of crafting and user generated content, the latter also having interesting community and political aspects, the former notable for real monetary transactions for virtual property. And flying penises. Project Entropia (now Entropia Universe) also launched, another game notable for headline-hitting real money transactions, but hearing that sweat gathering is a primary source of income for new players never really sold it for me. EVE Online doesn’t exactly have houses as such, but Player Owned Stations (POSs) are an important element. Horizons (now Istaria) sounded like an ambitious but ultimately flawed attempt at a dynamic world, I recall some WoW guildmates reminiscing fondly about guild building projects there, but it’s not something I ever tried.

The second key game for MMOG housing, though, must surely be Star Wars Galaxies. SWG, before the much-lamented Combat Upgrade and New Game Enhancements, was very much in the mould of Ultima Online, at the “world” end of the “world <-> game” spectrum, very player-centric. Due to the difficulties in having player built/owned structures within the “main” world, not least the amount of space required, many games after UO took an instanced approach, having some sort of portal or gateway taking players to regions dedicated to player or guild housing. With entire planets to roam SWG never really had space issues, players really could carve out their own homesteads, and groups of players could co-operate on shared buildings like cantinas. There are many options for building and decoration, and not long after launch the player city system became more formalised, with mayors and elections.

I’ve only played SWG for a few weeks of trials, years after its peak of popularity, and visiting a few player cities (mostly for shopping) was a lonely experience; I don’t think I ever saw another character in any of them. Some of the houses were excellent, packed with interesting curios, but the cities never felt like a vibrant, living part of the game, more like the opening scenes of 28 Days Later, or a caravan park in a coastal resort in mid-winter, outdated slot machines blinking forlornly through drizzle… Technically, though, the implementation is impressive.

Moving on again, City of Heroes was notable for its unprecedented array of options when designing your character’s appearance, another important aspect of personalisation and a sense of ownership, and with the release of the City of Villains expansion the designers put a great deal of effort into supergroup bases, shared spaces for the CoH equivalent of a guild to build and decorate. They turned out to be “the most underused facet of the game”; I wrote about them a while back, they’re quite fun to play with, but in terms of return of investment for the developers they didn’t seem to come out too well.

Then there was the big showdown: EverQuest II and World of Warcraft. I understand EQ2’s housing system is pretty extensive and well received, with a Carpenter crafting profession whose principal output is furniture; WoW has no housing, and Blizzard don’t seem to be in a hurry to implement it. If anything gives lie to the triumph of personal virtual space, it’s surely the success of the house-less EverQuest and then World of Warcraft; player owned spaces can certainly be an asset to a game, quite literally in the case of something like Entropia Universe, but for the majority of players a lack of housing clearly isn’t a deal breaker.

Zapping forward through the timeline again, Guild Wars offers Guild Halls for guilds to hang around, chat, swap recipes and engage in vicious fights to the death; Dungeons and Dragons Online recently introduced guild housing in the form of airships, though our little Friday night group drifted apart before earning enough points to qualify for one; Vanguard has housing, though I don’t know anyone who plays it, and I’m hoping to see more of the Lord of the Rings Online system now it’s gone free-to-play in Europe.

Age of Conan is probably worth a mention for its ambitious plans for player cities that would be attacked by NPCs; I was in a guild around launch, and we ground out substantial quantities of resources and had a couple of guild expeditions to start building a keep; I don’t seem to have written anything about it, which is most remiss of me, I must have a dig around to find the screenshot folder of us all cheering as the gates went up. I drifted away from the game before anything particularly exciting happened there, though, so I’m not sure if NPC attacks were ever implemented.

There’s far too much war in Warhammer Online to be able to take time off to go house hunting with an estate agent; guilds can claim in-game keeps after they’re captured, but with the speed of the battlefront such claims tend to be pretty transient. I gather Darkfall deliberately restricts available land for building to make it a desirable resource and the focus for major battles. Lego Universe isn’t quite so focused on life-or-death PvP struggle, and would seem to be a natural fit for building, but with a quiet launch I haven’t seen what sort of options you actually have.

So there are MMOGs with houses for individuals, shared buildings for guilds, entire player-built cities; in some the houses are purely decorative, others offer storage, trading services and other benefits; the houses may be in peaceful villages or instances, or key defensive structures in ongoing wars. I’m sure I missed plenty in that whistle-stop tour as well. Has any game really nailed housing yet, or is there still something lacking? Is it something you really value, useful only for the benefits it might give, or of no great concern?

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Warriors of Rock Band 3

I haven’t posted about music games since the E3 Guitar Hero/Rock Band coverage as there are many better sources of news (Plastic Axe, for instance), and tales of Guitar Heroism don’t make for fascinating reading (“… so I pushed the red button, then the green button, then the red button again, then the red *and* yellow buttons, and then I was supposed to press the orange button but I missed and pressed the yellow button…”) The triple whammy 12 months ago of Guitar Hero 5, The Beatles: Rock Band and Rock Band 2 within a short space of time was really the saturation point for me, combined with a smidge of DLC and imports from previous games they gave me more than 300 songs to be working through on guitar, bass, drums or vocals, which is Quite A Lot. I’ve been dabbling on and off, especially when a particularly nifty bit of DLC comes along (like Flight of the Conchords, woo!), getting a few more dollars or trying for a few more stars in the various tour modes and challenges, but the white light and white heat of hot-rocking excitement has cooled to a comfortable numbness. Can the big guns rekindle the flame with Guitar Hero 6 (aka Warriors of Rock) and Rock Band 3 now out in the UK (yes, even the Wii version, simultaneous with the 360 and PS3 releases and the same week as the US instead of 14 months later)?

“Not really” seems to be the answer, both personally and nationally. The impact of the biggest new feature of Rock Band 3, “Pro Mode” featuring (more or less) real keyboards, drums and guitars, has been somewhat lessened by delays, lack of availability and price (£70 for a keyboard, £110 for the button-based Pro guitar that’s in short supply if available at all); the peripheral I’m really interested in, the Squier stringed guitar, has only just got a release date (March 2011) and price ($280, plus it needs a $40 MIDI controller) for America, no word for the UK (I’m hoping they don’t just switch the $ for £, if they release it at all). Without Pro Mode Rock Band 3 is pretty similar to Warriors of Rock, Yet Another Guitar(/Drum/Vocal) Game, slightly spruced up from the previous instalment, a bunch of new songs but not necessarily a vital “must buy” unless there’s anything on the setlist you’re really desperate for.

I decided to hold off on Warriors of Rock and let it drop in price a bit, and with sales turning out to be somewhat disappointing it’s already getting cheaper. Without the Squier I was in two minds about picking up Rock Band 3 straight away as well, but a free Doors 3-pack of songs available for the first week of release clinched my order, putting me in pretty select company with 294(!) other Wii players (I’m not sure if the figures are bricks and mortar shops alone, but any way you slice it those aren’t brilliant release weekend sales).

Rock Band 3 is… like Rock Band 2, but a bit better. Particularly welcome on the Wii is SDHC support and the ability to export tracks from previous games, only Rock Band 2 and Green Day Rock Band at the moment but we’re keeping our fingers crossed that they might manage to license Rock Band 1 and Lego Rock Band as well. An extensive series of achievements (or goals, as they are in RB3) offers plenty of incentives for those into that sort of thing (I need to lure three others along for “Bohemian As Intended” for playing Bohemian Rhapsody with a band of at least four). Graphically the note tracks and lyrics are all perfectly clear; the band members seem to have taken a slight backward step since Rock Band 2, especially when you’re trying to design a female character. I’m not sure if they’re bungeeing into the Uncanny Valley, but I had to drop the female bass player I’d whipped up as her strange zombie features freaked me out; it’s hardly an issue during songs as you’re fixated on the note track anyway, but the between-song tour vignettes were a bit peculiar.

I’m not really sure about keyboards; I suspect they could be fun on some songs, but maybe not £70 of fun, I’ll try and have a go on someone else’s to get a better idea. Maybe if the peripheral comes well down in price it would more of a possibility for an impulse buy. It’s the Squier guitar that, for me, has the potential to really elevate Rock Band 3, so I’ll be looking out for some more reviews and concrete information next March to see how well it works.

Looks like Bill Harris was right with his obituary for music games, despite Activision’s pledge the the Hero franchise will return. I think they might be heading the way of the flight sim: once ubiquitous, now sometimes dragged out for some casual multiplayer fun but mostly limited to a handful of enthusiasts with piles of expensive specialist hardware.

Monday 8 November 2010

I do not seek. I find.

Why do I play MMOs? Because despite years of play, despite having multiple level-capped characters, and despite thinking I’ve done it all, I can still discover an unfamiliar door in a low level town and enter to find this:
But where's the crazy lady?But where's the crazy lady?

LotRO’s own Cataclysm?

And while we’re talking about my not knowing/remembering obvious stuff in Lord of the Rings Online, it was only upon reading Syp’s article at Massively that I found out my Warden can’t kill critter mobs in the game because she’s a tree-hugging hippy elf; I’d never found this out because I’m the sort of tree-hugging hippy who doesn’t go around trying to one-shot critter mobs as I run along, which is perhaps also why I gravitated to playing an elf.

It’s curious though, and I can only imagine that these critters are able to claim diplomatic immunity, because my elf Warden has killed all manner of animals on her travels and not all of them could have been evil. No, there’s been a definite lack of pointy moustaches on many of the boars she’s killed, with nary a sign of high-collared capes or top hats on the bears. Yet those animals were apparently fine to kill because some random stranger demanded it; some spoilt NPC rolling on their back, kicking their legs in the air, pounding their fists on the ground and screaming until my character, sighing and eyes rolling to the heavens, went off and killed a number of innocent pigs. So why have qualms over stabbing a squirrel? (note: not a euphemism). I won’t have it that she’s one of the more hypocritical breed of animal rights sorts, where killing anything cute and that is easily anthropomorphised is a hideous crime, and which they’ll yell angrily about around a mouthful of hamburger to anyone who’ll listen. Thus, assuming she is fair and indiscriminate in her wholesale slaughter of wildlife throughout the lands of Middle Earth, there must be some other reason why she can’t kill critters; diplomatic immunity is my best answer. It seems obvious now that every time she goes to violate a vole (note: not a euphemism), the critter whips out documents outlining its protection under several binding conventions of Middle Earthian law. Where does it find the space to keep such documents? I couldn’t explain it to you, but then I couldn’t explain how a wolf manages to hide a long sword or a boar manages to secrete plate armour on its person either. Squirrels, well okay, I could understand how a squirrel would manage it, because after all squirreling things away is what they do, but when you’re trying to filet a fox (note: not a euphemism) and it suddenly and from nowhere pulls out a large diplomatic wallet it must be both surprising and frustrating.

And after such a long hard day, where her adventuring has lead to nothing but pent up aggression and frustration, I can only imagine that my elf has a routine need to find a secluded spot, settle comfortably down and quietly shank a shrew.

Friday 5 November 2010

Wot I'm Playing: Silent Storm

While contemplating stompy robots and silly names, Pardoz mentioned Silent Storm in the comments which rang a vague bell, possibly from a previous wave of UFO: Enemy Unknown nostalgia when the XCom games came out on Steam, so I thought I’d try and track it down.

It proved a bit tricky; Silent Storm doesn’t seem to be available from Good Old Games, Steam or other download services, and the best Amazon & co. could offer were pricey used copies (the expansion, Sentinels, seems more readily available, but I’m guessing it’s not much use without the original game). Fortunately a friend had it kicking around in his collection, so I nabbed it from him and it’s proved to be quite a gem.

Silent Storm is pretty much UFO: Enemy Unknown in World War II, the ten years of development between the two resulting in higher resolution graphics on a fully pan-and-tilt-and-zoom-able map, but the core gameplay will be instantly familiar to XCom veterans: send your little squad of 6 out on turn-based missions to shoot the bad guys, nick their cool guns, and back home for tea and crumpets (or kaffee und kuchen, as you can play either Allies or Axis). The strategic aspects are a bit more straightforward than UFO, eschewing the base building, recruitment, alien interception and research aspects for a pool of 20 soldiers from whom you can pick 6 for each mission, and a more structured story where clues found on missions lead to further tasks. It’s really most splendid, and once I’ve finished it I might well grab Jagged Alliance 2, another turn based game I missed out on at the time, and rather more easily available from GOG and the like.

[2012 update: it’s now available at GOG, huzzah!]


Thursday 4 November 2010

Thought for the day.

Worgen Druids: the snooty over-achievers of werewolf school.

“Simpkins! Pay attention at the back, you think you have time to sit around and daydream? You can’t even turn into half a wolf and Jennings here can already turn into a bear, a cat, a hawk, an owlbear, a cheetah, and some sort of hideous monstrosity with flippers that I never want to see again in my life ever… understood Jennings? Jennings!”


Wednesday 3 November 2010

Regulation 571.111

As m’colleague put it:

Objects In The Starter Area May Appear More/Less Awesome Than They Actually Are.

I hopped in to World of Warcraft last night and rolled up a new character along with m’colleague and our power armour bearded friend, for a quick blast around to get ourselves back into the swing of things, tweak UIs, try to remember how half the functionality of the game worked, remind ourselves how frustrating it is to only have sixteen bag slots, that sort of thing.

Watching xBevisx run around on his Cataclysmified Warrior was a bit of a revelation for me; I’d pretty much decided to play a Warrior come the launch of Cataclysm, but seeing him run around at level six, firing off his Victory Rush ability and healing himself to full at the start of each fight, with said mobs generally exploding in a misty cloud of blood after one massive swipe of his two-handed weapon, completely sold me on the idea. His non-stop gleeful chortling as he slaughtered the starter area wholesale added a certain weight to the idea that the class was pretty fun to play.

It’s an issue though: Blizzard have clearly tweaked classes to make them more appealing earlier in their careers – we hadn’t even reached level ten and picked up our defining abilities from our chosen talent tree – and it seems that the classes have been adjusted to give players core abilities very early on. M’colleague also pulled out a fine example to backup his quote mentioned at the start of this post. In City of Heroes the Blaster and the Controller were two classes that couldn’t be more separated in the fun stakes. In the early days of CoH the Blaster, archetypal DPS, could one shot most mobs from range, with perhaps a couple of shots being required for tougher opponents. The Controller, on the other hand, having the ability to lock down opponents and stop them from operating, was balanced by having little in the way of damage output. Thus the majority of game-play for a Controller involved holding a mob and then punch-punch-punch-hold-punch-punching your way to victory. It was a long, dull, painful process and not a lot of fun outside of a group, and not an epic amount of fun in one either. Eventually, however, come level thirty two, Controllers got their ultimate ability: pets. Once they had their pets the Controller could hold huge groups of mobs, and then using their secondary powerset to enhance their pets, use the pets to slaughter these massive mobs wholesale with absolute impunity. The Blaster, on the other hand, could still dish out huge amounts of damage, but they were left incredibly vulnerable if they didn’t take everything out in one giant alpha strike, which was often not possible in the more difficult areas of the game, especially where Boss level NPCs lived. Controllers became the end-game Gods, Blasters were relegated to a lesser position.

I wonder how the class population of Warcraft will shift with these new changes in place, especially when the next influx of new characters arrives with the new races that are being released in Cataclysm. It’s fun to see how populations at level eighty change with the various patches, but I’d also be interested to know if there are ‘population clumps’ for characters that never reached the level cap. Are there certain level ranges where certain classes are regularly abandoned for one reason or another? Certainly the Warrior looks like a lot of fun in the early levels now, but will that continue, or will players become disheartened when they see Paladins being able to do equal DPS, but also being able to heal and buff and provide other utility skills? I wonder whether players these days even focus on what the character can do at the start of the game, or if they only focus on how the class is purported to play at the end-game.

I’m set to play my Warrior come Cataclysm, but I’m definitely more prepared, as long as I remember that Objects In The Starter Area May Appear More Awesome Than They Actually Are, my expectations should hopefully be set accordingly.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire. Would not we shatter it to bits.

Having spent a little bit of time in World of Warcraft last night, taking part in the beginnings of the Shattering – which primarily consists of a few quests to ‘go here, speak to him, speak to her, collect that, wear a dress, shout ‘DOOM’, kill a few of those’ in traditional MMO fashion – I’ve decided that I’m going to re-dub future January Sales as January Shatterings from now on.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen quite so many level-capped insanely-geared heroes of Azeroth running back and forth across Stormwind and Elwynn Forest, desperately making a grab for the various bargains on offer. Prophecies of Doom are particularly popular and selling like hotcakes, with a strong run on portents, conspiracies and doomsday cults too. Curiously, the hotcakes aren’t selling all that well. There’s a definite rush to get to Stormwind’s garden department, with people clearly looking to be the first to get their hands on a Deathwing Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Flame Grilling Machine.

All I can say is thank goodness for a lack of collision detection, otherwise the canals of Stormwind would be full of players throwing themselves out of the way of careening level eighty characters with armour spikes poking out of every conceivable appendage, with role-players and new players being the worst hit. Indeed, I picture bewildered newbies being trampled all the way back to the Spirit Healer, and indignant role-players being flung bodily into the canal, then having to pause for half an hour while they construct a detailed back-story of why they’re in the canal, what their motivation for being there is, and updating their description to describe how their dishevelled stranglekelp-strewn hair still beautifully accentuates their powerful, glowing, half-demon half-titan red eyes.

I’m still not entirely convinced that the Cataclysm won’t be caused by Blizzard telling players that Deathwing’s giant fiery wang is at a specific location and that they can get an achievement for riding it, then turning on collision detection as a thousand or more epic-laden characters descend upon it and all simultaneously smash into one another with the destructive power of several hundred hydrogen bombs, sundering the surrounding lands. Perhaps Deathwing won’t even make an appearance: like some Rock and Roll legend, just the mere mention of him has huge crowds of fans rampaging across the land trying to catch a glimpse, tearing their own hair out at the thought of getting close, screaming from faces clasped by shaking hands, tears rolling down between grimaced folds of fanaticism; the fans themselves destroying everything in their path until all the land has been razed and devastated. Deathwing will peer out from behind the curtain of his hotel window, despair at the sheer number of screaming fanatical heroes trying to claim a flame-forged autograph, and cancel his main concert, retiring to the comforts of an exclusive dungeon where a select crowd of ten to twenty five adoring fans will be allowed in to watch and worship him, while the world outside burns beneath the storm of rioting fans and frenzied shoppers.

This is the way the world ends: This is the way the world ends: This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang but a bit of a kafuffle.

Monday 1 November 2010

A Blogger Walks Into a Bar

Looking at other fields, it’s often clear that they could be improved by the rigorous skills and discipline of blogging. Comedy, for example; so-called “jokes” are frequently unclear or confusing, so let’s see how one could be improved by the stringent analysis that only blogging can provide:

So, you know that there are sticks, yes? They are part of a tree, and they are called a stick. And they are brown. Wood is brown, these sticks are wood, and therefore they are brown.

[Image: a stick]
[Caption: A Stick. Note colour (brown).]

The Word Sticky
Now, there is also the word sticky. Often when you append -y to a word it would mean “like a stick”, but in this instance it actually means “tacky” or “adhesive”, unrelated to *a* stick, in the sense of a piece of wood.

A Humorous Question
Thus here is a humorous question: what is brown and sticky? Now you are considering an item that is tacky or adhesive, yes, and is also brown, such as perhaps a small patch of syrup, or a dab of creosote, or more appropriately an unbranded wood preservative substance for of course creosote itself is regulated for the use of professionals only under EU Directive 76/769/EEC.

[Image: wood preservative]
[Caption: wood preservative substance meeting appropriate EU directives on benzo-alpha-pyrene and water extractable phenols]

You are perhaps even thinking that the answer is “excrement”, which is uproariously amusing, as excrement possesses intrinsic humour.

[Image: poo]
[Caption: Excrement]

The Answer
However I tell you the answer is as follows: a stick.

[Image: the same stick as before]
[Caption: A Stick.]

You will remember from the opening paragraph that the stick is brown, and from the second paragraph that “sticky” could be misinterpreted as “stick-y”, or “like a stick”, and of course a stick is unquestionably like a stick, thus rendering the answer technically correct, and yet at the same time confounding your expectations, from whence the humour is derived.

Thank you.