Monday 28 February 2011

And the winner is...

It’s Oscar time, and a sad indictment of the game industry that only one of the ten Best Picture nominations, Toy Story 3, has a tie-in video game (unless you count Facebook). After devoting a great deal of thought to the matter, KiaSA Industries are pitching several projects to cash in on the success of the films in question:

The King’s Speech: Based on a Lips/SingStar karaoke-style engine, players have to work through a series of vocal exercises, tongue twisters and vigorous swearing before the end-game challenge, delivering a speech announcing the outbreak of war.

The Fighter: Quick re-brand of Wii Sports Boxing. Sorted!

Black Swan: A modified version of Dance Central with more ballet moves, plus a bottle of psychotropic drugs

127 Hours: One for the motion-sensing controllers as players start off with a nice bit of hiking in the manner of Wii Fit or similar, then have to shove their arm down the back of the sofa and stay there for five days. Wii version comes with a pretend plastic penknife blade to clip onto the Wiimote.

Inception: A virtual world, within which is a computer that runs a virtual world, within which is a computer that runs a virtual world, within which is a computer that lets you play Midwinter to an Edith Piaf soundtrack.

The Social Network: if Facebook itself doesn’t count as the tie-in game, Zynga could surely step into the breach with SocialNetworkVille, a game on a social network about developing a social network on which can be developed games. Hang on, this might be Inception again.

True Grit: DLC for Red Dead Redemption, with extra mumbling dialogue

Bit stumped for the last two on the list, so in the grand tradition of terrible 8-bit games with, at best, tangential relations to their film namesakes I reckon a side-scrolling beat ’em up where you work through wave after wave of junkies for Winter’s Bone, and a jolly platformer where you bounce around collecting DNA test results and Joni Mitchell records for The Kids Are All Right.

Friday 25 February 2011

Businessmen, they drink my wine

After doing what seemed like the hard work of Pirates of the Burning Sea shipbuilding (cutting down trees, sawing logs into planks, making oak frames, sewing hemp into ropes and canvas), I had almost everything required for the grand launch of HMS Will This Thing Float? Chucking a bunch of sailors on a ship with no food isn’t the best idea, though, so the final items I needed were some packages of Ship Provisioning. Turns out they’re one of the trickiest elements of a ship for a sole trader to put together, needing goods from all over the place: cheese, hardtack (made from wheat grown in plantations), cured meat (from hunted game or cattle from pastures), cured fish, beans, refined sugar, rum (from molasses from the sugar refining process, plus barrels) and wine (made in a winery from grapes grown in vineyards). The Van Hemlock Provisioning Company, Suppliers of Comestibles to the Gentry (Fine Cheeses a Speciality) had some of the list covered but the only vineyards in the game are in the north-west corner of the map, a bit of a trek from our base in the south-east corner. There was only one thing for it: a Booze Cruise! Off to Tampa, pick up a load of wine, back via a distillery in the Antilles for some rum, that ought to get the shipbuilding party swinging.

After the short hop (2237.576 miles, according to Google maps, though that’s as the crow flies and doesn’t take into account skirting around Haiti, or bumping into Santa Clara for about ten minutes while AFK making dinner) we burst into Tampa’s auction house much like Withnail, demanding the finest wines available to humanity. At this point the plan hit a slight snag: it turns out that the French traders had got wind of my participation in the occasional sinking of a merchantman or two of theirs, and despite protesting about the legitimacy of the action in a declared warzone, they refused to deal with me.

Fortunately the Freetrader representative of the Van Hemlock Provisioning Company who’d also made the trip had been sensible enough not to repeatedly open fire on potential trading partners, so I shuffled around a bit outside the auction house and tugged at their sleeve. “Scuse me, mate… if I give you a load of doubloons, can you go in there and buy me some wine?”

Thursday 24 February 2011

King of the Lags.

The Burglar is the latest class which I have picked to play in Lord of the Rings Online; I’m quite a fan of utility classes when they’re thoughtfully designed, and the Burglar is one such veritable bag of proverbial tricks. The initial problem I found with the class was, as with many things in MMOs, not due to the thing itself but with other players’ perception of it. Although any fan of Tolkien’s work worth their salt will readily understand the type of Burglar being alluded to in the title of the class, the general populace (more ‘general’ than ever since the game went free-to-play) will take most classes at face value, and as such, a character that can enter stealth and dual-wield weapons is quite clearly a stabby Death Machine. Optional theme song: I’m Just A Death Machine to the tune of Girls Aloud’s Love Machine.

There are many common misconceptions amongst players in MMOs and it’s something developers should constantly be striving to guard against; I believe that if you expose players to the targets of their misconceptions early in the game, through tutorials which then go on to explain the true nature of things, you can create a greater level of harmony within the game’s community. Knowledge leads to understanding, and understanding leads to sympathy.

Alas, without understanding, a great majority of players will judge a book by its cover. Worse, they’ll take the book and stick the cover from their favourite book on it instead, and then judge it based on whether its content matches up to that. And then they’ll bend the pages back and break the binding, and I hate that, and … this metaphor isn’t really going anywhere.

In summary so far: Books. Covers. Judgements. It’s all starting to sound a bit biblical.

Anyway! Perhaps what we really need is some sort of publicist class for MMOs. The Max Clifford class would run around extolling the virtues of the various misunderstood player classes, driving much needed publicity for those roles that are underplayed and misunderstood. The local herald in Bree could yell headlines such as BURGLAR CLASS ATE MY HAMSTER, and then the publicist class would put some spin on it and everyone would have a good laugh, but the Burglar would also be foremost in their minds when the next Kill Ten Rodents dungeon raid came along…

As an example of such misconceptions, I would offer to you a simple excursion into the Great Barrows with a pick-up group. The Great Barrows is the first major dungeon that players encounter, and is therefore the place where a bunch of strangers (often including a number of new players) all get together, try to coordinate themselves, and attempt to execute a number of flawless battle strategies against tough opposition without really knowing their own class’s capability in a group role, let alone those of other classes. In short it’s the perfect recipe for a Good Time.

Where I use ‘good’ quite, quite wrongly.

And where the infinite expanse of foreverness implied by ‘time’ doesn’t really do the experience justice either.

Of course, with the recent influx of new players and the fact that Turbine have changed the dungeon system, such that running any dungeon will now reward you with a number of tokens which you can spend with a vendor to gain armour set pieces, and which is now also coupled with a dungeon interface that lets the group teleport instantly to the dungeon from anywhere in the world (sounding familiar?), dungeon running with pick-up groups has become a lot more impersonal.

Therefore, instead of the usual polite greetings and ‘how do you do’s at the start of a dungeon run, followed by an exchange of business cards, and perhaps a short but powerful Powerpoint presentation on the complexities of your class and what paradigms you can leverage in order to empower total performance for your group’s orc-stabbing synergies, you instead enter a dungeon and get:

“Good morning, my name is Dildo Daggins and I’ll be your Durglar…uh, Burglar today. What can I offer the group? Well, I’m not a rogue in the traditional sense, but instead I offer a complex class combination consisting of debu…”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.”

At which point (and I expect primarily because I’m a hobbit) I’m flung bodily into a set of angry Dourhand dwarves, with yells of “shut yer pie hole and get stabbing” falling away rapidly behind me as I sail through the air. And, unfortunately, what happens next only serves to strengthen their misconceptions, because much like an unsuspecting cat jokingly launched by their owner’s swept arm into the path of a large but altogether harmless dog which the cat had otherwise been calmly observing with tail-swishing disdain from the lofty safety of a chest of drawers, my Burglar can do nothing at this point other than that which instinct dictates: spread his limbs as wide as possible in order to futilely attempt to enter some sort of glide path, while at the same time making as many of those limbs as sharp and pointy as possible. Upon landing in the midst of the somewhat bemused targets, the Burglar then proceeds to slash away at everyone in the immediate vicinity – including himself – like some sort of frenzied cross between Loony Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil and Kick-Ass’s Hit-Girl, before leaping away and alighting on a nearby corpse, his back arched and hissing all the while. The rest of the pick-up group look on in wide-eyed pale-faced horror, some with hands clasped over mouths that blockade bulging cheeks, as my Burglar pants and stares frantically around, wild eyes peering out from behind gobs of gore dripping from his hood. A short pause follows before he’s suddenly freaked-out by the shadow of his own cloak, leaps six feet straight up into the air, and then attempts to escape by failing to run up the sheer face of a nearby wall. Finally he determines to regain some dignity, and so sits himself nonchalantly down and begins to lick his toes clean.

Of course the Burglar really offers far more than DPS to a group, in fact it could well be considered a secondary or tertiary role, but the common misconception is still sadly rife. I hope to expound in another post on what makes the Burglar special, along with the joys I’ve experienced in playing the class, but at least for now with this post you have hopefully found some level of understanding of what it means in Tolkien’s world when they call someone a cat burglar…

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Badger badger badger badger badger badger badger DEMO DEMO!

Not long now to Dragon Age II, and the demo has just been released with the prospect of a shiny bauble: “Finishing the demo unlocks a new weapon in the main game”. Seems a bit odd, I always thought the main purpose of a demo was to have a look at a game if you weren’t sure if you might like it, whereas that looks like an incentive to diehard players, who probably already have the full game pre-ordered, to go and play the demo too. And badger their friends into downloading it as well, as “If there are 1 million or more demo downloads on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 combined, two more in-game items will be released.”

Tuesday 22 February 2011

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea

Until recently our little fleet in Pirates of the Burning Sea had been patrolling the Caribbean on behalf of His Majesty, preserving the shipping lanes by hunting down pirates or seizing the ships of the dastardly French and Spanish when they challenged our rightful governance (it’s all legitimate with letters of marque and everything, honest). Then, while searching through the hold of a Spanish merchantman that was definitely supporting their war effort and didn’t just look like it might be loaded with gold or silver, certainly not, Flamboyant Admiral Sven found some weird book thing about Wealth and Nations or something[1], and he hasn’t been quite the same since… Alongside the usual cries of mainsheet splicing and yardarm hauling can now be heard “set sail for the quarry, we need more limestone!”, “does anyone have some common cheese, cured fish, hardtack, rum and a few sacks of beans?” and “avast, #ERR! off Column D, hoist revised inputs and prepare to recalculate SUM() functions!”

PotBS has a deep economy, a bit like EVE Online; resources such as limestone, iron ore, forests and fertile soil are distributed around various ports, and players can set up quarries, mines, logging camps and plantations to exploit them. The raw materials are converted into manufactured goods in player-built mills and forges, which in turn can be made into outfittings, consumables or further components that can eventually be assembled into entire ships, which other players promptly try to blow into matchsticks, a few of which can be gathered up to start the process again. There is heavy interdependence between the various resources and components and no quick way of transporting limestone from a quarry in one port to a forge in another port, you have to load it up onto a ship and sail it over. Materials can be bought and sold at auction, but again need hauling from the place you bought them if they’re required elsewhere.

All in all, there’s quite a lot to get to grips with. There is a good tutorial mission that gets you set up with a logging camp and lumber mill and takes you through the process of producing material, but I did it right at the start of the game at the same time as learning everything else in lessons such as Basic Ship Control, Leading a Boarding Party, Which One Is Starboard (Hint: Not Left) and Skull and Crossbones Flag: Good or Bad? By the time we actually got interested in production my logging camp was shuttered, and the lumberjacks were all off shopping and having buttered scones for tea; for anyone just starting up, I’d perhaps suggest leaving the economy tutorial for a while until you really want to get into production so that it’s fresher in your memory, but it’s not too tricky to go back to.

Our first goal was to produce Unrest Supplies, a method by which traders can contribute to the overall PvP campaign through economic warfare. It’s not like our rag-tag crew are going to be a critical component of the British war effort, but the Unrest Supplies need components from a few different types of structures so it seemed like a good way of dipping a toe into the ocean of manufacturing before taking the plunge into bigger enterprises like shipbuilding (or, if it turned out to be a bit cold, running back up the beach of naval combat and having an ice cream instead). Slightly randomly we’ve plonked down a bunch of structures from Guyana to Nicaragua, hauled a load of ore and tar around, and made a pretty decent start. Suitably emboldened I’ve set up a shipyard and, as as per the title quote of this post from some Antoine de Saint-Exupéry geezer, taught my fellow society members to long for the endless immensity of the sea. I don’t know how things work in French shipyards but I can tell you it’s sod all help in PotBS, so after we’d been staring out to the ocean for a while I figured collecting wood and assigning tasks would actually be a much better idea, so I… well, I’ve… it’s just that… I… downloaded a spreadsheet to help. It’s pretty simple, though, couple of VLOOKUPS, no dynamic pivot tables, I can give it up any time. Really. Just one more shift-F9 and I’m done…

[1] (Pedant’s Corner: if you spotted that Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations was published 50 years after the setting of Pirates of the Burning Sea, award yourself one point)

Friday 18 February 2011

Thought for the day.

I like a moderate pace of combat action in my MMOs. Put another way: I like to have time to consider my options in combat, but not enough time to draft those considerations into a thesis. At the same time, the frantic finger ‘pile driving’ required by games like Starcraft doesn’t really interest me.

Mixing the pace of combat based on role seems like it might add an extra level of flavour to character classes. Some classes might play slower but require more critical thought – the mage archetype seems apt – where the player mustn’t play for the moment but instead should consider the big picture, slowly and carefully building a foundation of power before unleashing their game-changing abilities, yet still having to adapt their plans based on the ebb and flow of battlefield. Other classes might require split second decisions – warriors being a prime example – where reacting to your enemy from moment to moment is the difference between victory or defeat.

With the primary aim being to give players a choice of pace within the same game context, is it wise to mix several types of combat into one game system?

Thursday 17 February 2011

SOE launch new EverQuest progression server, announce server transfers and planned closure

GUNBARREL, CO – With a virtual queue of massively multiplayer online role-playing game enthusiasts awaiting their chance to play EverQuest the way God and/or Brad McQuaid intended on the new Fippy Darkpaw progression server, Sony Online Entertainment have announced the launch of another progression server, Vulak’Aerr, to cope with the demand.

“We knew there was some late 90s nostalgia we could tap into” said SOE spokesman Reginald T. Furby, adding “wee-tee-kah-wah-tee” and putting on a CD single of Freestyler by the Bomfunk MC’s, “but we hadn’t anticipated this level of interest. We’re delighted to be able to open Vulak’Aerr so that everybody who wants to experience Old Skool EverQuest only has to queue for the spawns, not to get into the server.”

In other EverQuest news, Sony Online Entertainment have announced plans to allow character transfers from the Vulak’Aerr progression server onto Fippy Darkpaw, with Vulak’Aerr closing within three to six months. “It turns out nostalgia only takes you so far” said SOE spokesman Reginald T. Furby, hastily ejecting a B*Witched CD after remembering just how awful it was, “and after that initial wave of excitement and comparatively quick early levels, the sheen wore off a bit. On the plus side many of our players reported significant progress in household chores such as doing the washing up, ironing shirts, and other tasks that can be performed while waiting for mana to regenerate between pulls. Of course some players genuinely prefer this style of game, but not enough to sustain two servers.”

Asked about extending the progression server idea to other SOE games, Furby replied “well we thought about it for Star Wars Galaxies, but the Combat Update and New Game Experience were such unqualified successes that I really can’t see anybody wanting to go back to the old rules. We’re very excited about the progression development model we’re using on The Agency, though, giving players the chance to get hyped for the release of the game in six to twelve months, just like in 2007!”

1^1 + 2^2 + 3^3

There’s something about level thirty two in Lord of the Rings Online, and I’m starting to wonder if Douglas Adams wasn’t off by ten in his estimation of the Ultimate Answer. I now have four characters at level thirty two, and although one of them is a member of a static group who will surely continue on past the illustrious company of the others, my character screen at the time of writing looks like one of those uncanny messages in a movie, delivered by some unknowable force which is attempting to communicate with the puny minds of humanity in the only way it knows how.

32. 32. 32. 32.

You do have to wonder about these superior alien intelligences sometimes: whether the colleagues of this particular intelligence are looking over its shoulder and smirking as it tries to reveal the secrets of the universe through the medium of levels displayed on the character login screen of a middle-aged man in the south of England. The problem with the English is that we’re pragmatic and generally unperturbed by events, but also a bit slow:

“It’s most strange, darling. All my characters in this game seem to stop at exactly the same level, and I just can’t explain it.”

“Never mind, dear, I’m sure you’ll work it out in the end. Speaking of which, have you figured out what to do with that mysterious piece of alien technology that you found in the garden last night? It’s just that it’s still hissing and smoking frightfully, and it’s making a bit of a mess of the living room. And I think it may have disintegrated the cat.”

“Well no, not yet, I’m afraid I’ve been quite tied-up with the conundrum of my MMO characters to be honest. Anyway, the device has me a bit stumped, it seems to have a panel that requires a couple of numbers to be entered, and the symbols carved on the side seem to indicate some sort of massive evolution-of-species event, but I’ll be blarmed if I know what those numbers could… Oh damn and blast! I’ve just got another character stuck at level thirty two!”

“Perhaps I’ll take it down and show it to the ladies at the WI, dear. Mrs Cranny-Futtocks is a bit of whiz at the Guardian crossword, perhaps she can work it out.”

“Right you are. I’m going to roll-up a Lore-master; I haven’t gotten one of those to level thirty two yet. Sixty five! I meant sixty five. What in the seven hells of Bexhill-on-Sea is it with the number thirty two?!”

I mean, not all of my characters are at level thirty two, there are a few level one placeholders (which probably shouldn’t count) and the rest are level sixty five. It seems that level thirty two is a mid-life crisis for me when it comes to my character relationships in LotRO, the point where we either decide to buckle down and get on with one another, or we split in bitter acrimony and lengthy divorce proceedings.

Perhaps levelling a character for me is a bit like some sort of fictional soap opera marriage then:

  • Initial Courting (Levels 1 to 9) – Enthusiasm is high. Everything is fresh, new, exciting and unknown. We spend most of our time hiding our relationship from disapproving peers, but those who do find out will tut and mutter “It’ll never last” whilst exchanging knowing looks from behind their cups of tea and slices of Battenburg.
  • Marriage (Level 10) – The hidden potential in my new partner is suddenly revealed and I decide to commit to them. We have a huge tacky wedding, and at the reception afterwards all my previous characters sit at tables, looking miserable, and plotting our downfall.
  • Period of Sustained Happiness (Levels 11 to 20) – It’s the honeymoon period, life gets tougher but we both plough on through it together, unstoppable. Ratings soar and we are featured on the front of the TV Times.
  • Niggles Start to Set In (20 to 23) – My new character seems not to be developing that much as an individual any more, almost as if they’ve given up trying now that we’re both committed and comfortable. I, in turn, find myself not putting as much effort in to the relationship as I ought.
  • Rough Patch (24 to 30) – Things start to get tough. Everything is a slog. Every little thing is a problem, and every problem is their fault. Most of our scenes involve lots of shouting and throwing vases and cats across the living room at one another.
  • Breaking point (30 to 32) – This is where the character divorce happens, usually after the dramatic discovery that I’ve been having an affair with a low level alt from two doors down the character selection screen.
  • Happily Ever After (33 to 65) – If I make it this far, then it’s usually for keeps, and we grow old to the level cap together, whereupon one or the other of us is written out of the show after tragically dieing in an explosion resulting from a high-speed bowls collision.

Other reasons for me getting stuck at level thirty two could include the fact that it’s a power of two, and my brain – having been wired to deal with them – is only running a very basic 32-bit operating system (which would explain a lot). Thirty two is a Leyland number, and as we all know Leyland were a British motor manufacturer famous for their cars breaking down, so it’s a suitable point for my characters to break down too; but it’s also a happy number, so I’m not sure how that works – perhaps I’m glad for the chance to level a different character. Thirty two is also the freezing point in degrees Fahrenheit of water at sea level, which would explain why, when I get a character to level thirty three, their level rarely gets frozen again. A full set of teeth in a human adult, including wisdom teeth, is thirty two in number, so maybe this represents the point in character development where I start pulling teeth. And in the Kabbalah there are thirty two Kabbalistic Paths of Wisdom, so perhaps it’s simply the case that I’ve finally reached MMO enlightenment.

It could be any of those, really. I mean, it’s either that or just a curious coincidence that got turned into a slightly demented blog post. Which doesn’t seem terribly likely at all.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the problem is I do not know which half

One of the first things I tend to do in a MMOG is shift general/shout chat channels off onto their own tab, labelled (depending on mood) something like “General”, “Chatter”, “Spam”, “Bozos” or “Why WoW Is Better And/Or Worse Than This Game” (or in the case of World of Warcraft itself, “Why WoW Was Better And/Or Worse Than WoW Is Now”). It’s not entirely being unsociable, I like to have the tab there in case I want to reach out and connect with humanity (or find out why WoW is better and/or worse than this game), but those channels can easily swamp slightly more important guild/party chat or game messages, especially if a nefarious gold spammer is hawking their bargain in-game currency every few seconds.

Every Monday night the Hipster Battalion sallies forth to liberate another café in Warhammer Online (see, or indeed hear, the “What We’re Playing” episodes of the Van Hemlock Podcast for the continuing adventures), a game for which “polish” isn’t necessarily the first word that springs to mind with the odd bug you encounter, such as whenever you man a piece of siege equipment, regardless of your chat window settings, the General channel starts showing up again. It’s made all the more obvious because every week, without fail, there’s a gold spammer there, glowing orange promises of fast delivery scrolling with distracting regularity as you swing a battering ram at a keep door or lob rocks at a besieging army.

I’m slightly baffled, as I can’t think who would being buying gold in WAR. So far I’ve mostly been wearing PvP armour sets, bought with medallions that drop when you kill enemy players, accessorised with the odd quest reward or item from a public quest loot bag, with any gaps being filled in by vendors in the capital city who sell cheap items so long as you meet the renown rank requirement. The vast majority of the tokens, medallions and bits of armour themselves are bound to the player, so there isn’t an awful lot that can be listed for sale on the auction house; I’ll have a bit of a browse now and again, but in the last few months all I’ve bought is a couple of shields and an axe that were cheap enough to make the slight upgrade worth it, and a small pile of the cheapest helmets I could find just to try on for cosmetic purposes. Nothing I’ve seen suggests the end game is much different, though I could be mistaken. Of all the MMOGs I’ve dabbled in, the only example of in-game currency being less important that springs to mind is the early days of City of Heroes, when just about ever high level character had piles of “influence” and nothing to spend it on, apart from costume changes (in which respect there are some similarities with WAR, you can spend far more on dyeing armour sets into this season’s colours than on the armour itself.)

Maybe there is a thriving market after all that makes it worthwhile for the spammers to keep going; maybe it’s Mythic themselves, not actually selling currency but pretending to do so to give players the chance to use the /ignore function to work up to The Exiler achievement for having 100 players on your ignore list. I prefer to think, though, that there’s a monolithic gold selling corporation that shut down their Warhammer Online gold harvesting and supply business a while ago, but thanks to an oversight or a typo in a database someone still gets on a train each day, arrives in Basingstoke (I know China is more traditional base for gold selling, but go with it) eleven minutes late, hangs up their bowler hat and umbrella, and settles down to it… “Good evening, Miss Jones, any word from CJ on a change in the overall strategy? No? Still targeting the WAR-market? Right you are, off we go… ‘FAST RELIABLE GOLD DELIVERY AT…'”

Tuesday 15 February 2011

The making of a picture ought surely to be a rather fascinating adventure.

From the ArenaNet blog:

To build incredible online worlds, ArenaNet starts by hiring incredible people. You’ve seen some of the breathtaking work our artists have produced, and you’ve undoubtedly heard the groundbreaking ideas our designers have incorporated into Guild Wars 2. Well, even though QA isn’t responsible for making art or designing game systems, ArenaNet ensures that our team members are the best in the industry.

Looks like ArenaNet’s marketing has moved from game promotion into shareholder fellating. It’s the second time in as many posts that their marketing has grated, so for me it’s time to switch off the feed until the game gets released.

Honestly, if you can read through that post without throwing up in your mouth a little, well done you, and do carry on. I’m sure there’s a drinking game in there somewhere though; perhaps, take a drink every time you read a sentence that screams ‘I’m only saying this because my boss wants me to, then I can hopefully get out of QA and become one of the “legendary designers and developers that make up the staff here”‘. Perhaps I shouldn’t picture it being written by some poor sweating sobbing dishevelled individual, as marketing drones in tight black uniforms stand behind spot lamps and bark orders at him. “ACHTUNG! MORE GUSHING! SCHNELL!”

I rather like ArenaNet as a company; Guild Wars is an excellent game, and I’m looking forward to the new iteration of it, but for me the marketing tone has shifted from promoting to pimping, and it’s more likely to drive me away than make me want to play the game.

Maybe this is the way marketing has to be in the industry. Perhaps this is the sort of glossy rose-tinted reality that the ‘true’ fans are after. People within the industry may say that the sort of frothing self-congratulatory adulation that paints a picture-perfect presentation of how remarkable this particular MMO will be – of the sort that helped Mythic to win through so convincingly with the release of Warhammer Online – is a perfectly acceptable part of participating in the carnival of pre-release hype for an MMO. They may be right. But I don’t have to like it — and I don’t.

Sunday 13 February 2011

The end of laughter and soft lies

So Activision are shelving the Guitar Hero franchise, a move that doesn’t come as a great surprise. Since that last post of mine I picked up Guitar Hero 6: Warriors of Rock when the full band bundle briefly dropped to £60, probably to clear some warehouse space at GAME and Amazon; the hardware is nice, especially the drum set which is the main reason I’d picked the bundle up, the set list has some good stuff in it, but like Rock Band 3 (Pro Mode apart), it’s Yet Another Guitar Game.

A few of the Slashdot comments highlight lack of innovation as a key failing in the Guitar Hero franchise, but I’m not really sure how many avenues they had. I can’t think of another game genre that sprang into existence so fully formed; course there were gradual improvements over the course of the series like use of master tracks for songs instead of the “As Made Famous By” cover versions, adding drums and vocals, and general tweaks for a better game experience, but the core mechanic of pushing-buttons-in-time-with-music has remained constant. Graphical improvements are far less relevant than for most games, with the players focused on those coloured dots coming down the screen. They tried a head-to-head PvP battle mode in Guitar Hero 3, it didn’t really work (the good old “see who can get the highest score” method has remained the main area of competition for the more dedicated). Band Hero tried a more pop-oriented set list, I’m guessing they didn’t shift a whole lot of units as the Warriors of Rock bundle I got from Amazon, once the outer sleeve slipped off, was in a Band Hero box with the game itself swapped over. There were artist-specific games for Aerosmith, Metallica and Van Halen, but I guess the number of fans of the artists who hadn’t really thought about music games before didn’t make up for the number of music game fans who weren’t big enough fans of a particular artist to get a specific game. Working real rock stars into the main games meanwhile caused legal headaches, and though I can just about understand people getting annoyed about Kurt Cobain singing Bon Jovi, I’m slightly less convinced that No Doubt’s lasting artistic integrity was irreparably damaged by having them perform songs by those no-talent hack Rolling Stones. Speaking of real artists, The Beatles Rock Band made a brief dent on mainstream coverage, but doesn’t seem to have had a lasting effect on the music game genre as a whole, even with the biggest band in history and a phenomenal amount of care and dedication from Harmonix. We’re still waiting on the real guitar that will connect to Rock Band 3 in Pro Mode, though signs are positive that it will actually be coming to the UK, and for a not entirely unreasonably price compared to the US price if the pre-order information at Andertons holds up. I’m still pretty keen on picking it up, but I’m sure I’m part of a pretty small niche.

With the historical focus on DLC that Harmonix have had with the Rock Band series, I’d hope they can continue profitably with their scaled-back team; I wonder if Guitar Hero could possibly have continued in a similar vein, releasing “track pack” style expansion discs to simply add songs to previous games, but that doesn’t seem to be in keeping with Activision’s mega-franchise strategy. Ah well; it’s been a good run, and I’m sure it’ll be back in some rebooted form eventually.

Friday 11 February 2011

Our hopes and expectations

GamaSutra have an interesting interview with Bill Roper looking back on Hellgate: London. Sounds like a fairly familiar story; great ambition, a passionate developer communicating that ambition perhaps a little too early, big ideas that prove impractical, ultimately having to release a scaled back game earlier than they’d like due to financial pressure. Not a million miles from APB by all accounts, or several other MMOG releases.

I was also listening to the splendid One Life Left crew discussing their ideas for getting OBEs by force, and after various hypothetical axe-kicks, face-stomps and arm-bars upon poor industry luminaries, the plan of attack to get hold of Peter Molyneux’s OBE was to find a group of gamers, hold up a list of his grand announcements about Fable, then hold up Fable itself and let them sort him out. Despite some residual antipathy, though, Fable generally got pretty decent, if unspectacular, reviews on what was actually released rather than what was promised, and didn’t implode, dragging the company with it. Though non-massive games aren’t entirely immune to crashing and burning under a weight of expectation, it seems like a far smaller percentage suffer that fate. Is it the greater complexity of MMOGs, a general problem with the genre, are the audience more discerning or do they have unrealistic demands?

Mind you, I’d quite like to see a Microsoft MMOG with Peter Molyneux at the helm, maybe for a nice, low-key IP without too many heavily invested fans like the Twilight saga. Just to see if the internet can, literally, explode…

Thursday 10 February 2011

I'm too sexy for my shirt.

The latest ArenaNet blog post on designing Humans in Guild Wars 2 has an interesting section, especially when cast in the light of our post from yesterday:

“I would like to say a quick word about where we stand when it comes to the “sexiness” of our armors and costumes.”

“Phwoar!”    ?

“This is a controversial subject that I encounter frequently on forums and message boards—not just about Guild Wars, but about a lot of games. I understand that many players feel that armor should be practical, realistic, and shouldn’t leave skin exposed to attack.”

I think you’ll find most people who wear armour think this too. Mainly because, well, y’know…
   Armour
   — n
   1. any defensive covering, esp that of metal, chain mail, etc,
    worn by medieval warriors to prevent injury to the body in battle

not

   Armour
   — n
   1. any defensive covering, esp that of metal, chain mail, etc,
   worn by women to show their perfectly formed voluptuous bodies
   to maximum effect in order to ‘sex up’ the enemy.

“When coming up with ideas for armor, the character and concept department try to balance the practical with the

fact that they’re a bunch of randy marmots?

fantasy.”

Oh.

“We make armor that looks protective and functional, but we also make armor that looks sexy and shows a generous level of strategically placed skin.”

Translating…
   ‘generous level’ = Giant
   ‘strategically placed skin’ = Tits

I’m sure a strategically placed arrow will look very sexy sticking out of those generous levels of strategically placed skin. Puncture Repair Kits can be bought from local NPC vendors, and your generous levels of strategically placed skin can be re-inflated using the pump at the resurrection shrine.

“We recognize the “fantasy” aspect of our game;”

We recognise that most people these days seem to equate “fantasy” with “nymphomaniac bisexual female fleshbots”

“if you are able to rain down balls of fire from the sky, your clothing should”

Really show off your breasts and bikini line?

“not be a factor when it comes to body temperature,”

Oh. I assume that’s because everyone is already STEAMING HOT due to looking like cyborg pornstars.

“whether you are wearing your underwear”

I’m not wearing any underwear while writing this. Welcome to my fantasy, people.

“or a fur coat.”

Great point, here’s mine:
If you are able to run into the middle of a horde of angry centaurs, your armour should not be a factor when it comes to protection, whether you are wearing your underwear or a set of full plate.

“We’ve always intended to create outfits for male and female characters that are appealing and attractive without making our players feel uncomfortable about what their character or other player-characters are wearing.”

Translating…
   Men wear armour. Woman wear as little as possible.
   If you feel uncomfortable, it’s because you’re a prude.

“I think that Guild Wars has been very successful in this regard, and we will continue to make outfits that adhere to this philosophy.”

Well at least the outfits will adhere to something, because it sure as hell isn’t going to be your character’s body.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

TERA Patch Notes.

Having read a little more around the topic of TERA recently, browsed the website and watched some promotional videos, we thought we’d have a quick guess at what the next set of TERA patch notes might say:

o Fixed an issue with the camera not pointing up a female character’s skirt by default.

o Added seven new moody frowns to the male face selection menu.

o Increased female character grunting by 50% while in combat.

o Improved the knicker-elastic physics engine.

o Updated Popori lore description to some half-baked waffle. Removed the ‘See if we can get away with pseudo-bestiality in our Mature Nudge Nudge Wink Wink MMO’ placeholder. Still trying to remember why it seemed like a good idea to name a race after some smelly stuff in a bowl.

o Added six additional cup sizes to the breast slider in character creation (JJJ through Q).

o Added new food buff items: Banana, Cucumber, several varieties of Sausage, Cadbury’s Flake. Characters have a 30 second languorous eating animation when activated.

o Removed unnecessary articles of clothing for female character models.

o Male character jawbones are now 20% more David Coulthard.

o Adjusted female caster animations so that they involve a greater percentage of bending over and touching toes while holding a finger to pursed lips.

o Increased quest diversity. Now only 84% of quests involve saving a damsel in distress who then wishes to “show you her gratitude”.

o NPCs now correctly cry “Oh, Matron!” when female Castanics wield a staff.

o Re-worked crafting tutorial for carpentry as it involved insufficient innuendo about getting wood.

o Seven Year Itch wind physics is now enabled in the latest build.

o Polearms now correctly reclassified as pole-dancing-arms.
  Glaive-glaive-glaive-guisarme-glaive-thong-rack-bardiche is now properly tasselled.

o Introduced action-appropriate music including the main “bow-chikka-wow-wow” theme.

o Tightened-up male character buttocks.

o Removed the Slavering Phallic Tongue Beasts of Tentaclon IV as an NPC race because they were a bit obvious, even for us.

o Male character neck veins should now throb properly when posing and flexing. Players can now turn off leg armour in the options menu in order to show other throbbing vein.

o The bras of female Archers now correctly ping-off every time they draw their bows.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Thought for the day.

“What are the facts? Again and again and again — what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history” — what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!”
         —- Lazarus Long

A motto for pre-release/beta MMO reporting among bloggers if ever I heard one.

Objectivity first; save the emotionally invested testimonies – good or bad – for when you’ve been playing the game for six months after release.

Monday 7 February 2011

My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song.

And so, after almost four years of faithful service, my PC decided to retire from this world in a concussive fireball that took out one side of my house.

Or so I imagine it would have dearly wished, but instead it only managed a feeble putter and then refused to produce any activity other than hard disk drives chuntering to life along with the case light and fans; as tools-down picket lines go, it was pretty comprehensive, however. Not even a series of blunt POST beeps greeted me when I pressed the power button, that PC equivalent of R2-D2 flicking two fingers at you in what should be unintelligible parps, boops and beeps, but which you categorically know would translate to certain objectionable four-letter words if you could run it through a Babel fish.

Simply silence, and the faint blue glow of the power LED, staring out at me like the eye of HAL 9000 – “I’m sorry, I can’t do that Dave”.

I went through the various stages of PC rejection: Confusion, Shock, Panic, Anger, Distress, Regret, Despair. Moved on to quietly pleading to various deities which I remembered reading about at school, then pressing the power button while I kept my eyes closed, and waiting a short while before popping one eye open and scanning around with it to see if a miracle had occurred. Strange thing about miracles: not many of them ever recorded against the resurrection of dead PC components. I reached the final stage of PC rejection fairly quickly – sulking, gave up on joining my friends on our once-per-week Lord of the Rings Online gathering, and instead finished reading a book.

I carried on with the book reading the next morning, all the while my mind settled into that melancholy state where it considered the time involved in diagnosing whether it was power supply, RAM, motherboard or processor that had failed, and the effort in trying to locate replacement parts for an aging four year old system; balanced it against the cost of purchasing the best part of a new system, which although not entirely an issue, was depressing when one considered that the carefully selected hand-rolled system that I’d put together four years ago was still able to run most modern games with the settings whacked right up. My mind, as it is wont to do, then flittered from despair to rage, with thoughts of “To hell with it all!” and “I’ll just stop gaming!” and the corridors of my cortex bloomed like a time-lapse flower with wild fantasies, where I fancied I could spend what time I used to dedicate to gaming instead doing exercises and weight training and reading, whereupon I would become some sort of intellectual iron man, surrounded by adoring nubile college girls, who would coo and marvel as I bench-pressed a car while breathlessly reciting Gerard Manley Hopkins at them. Each fantasy would break apart as soon as my eyes inevitably wandered back to the black monolith sitting silently in the corner of my living room however, a magnetic anomaly, a thumping pulse radiating from it, a regular beat, drumming at the primitive gamer in me, drawing me back with its promise of other worlds and dimensions to explore.

So the order for new components will be placed in the next few days, and then I’ll spend time performing surgery on my old faithful companion, carefully parting the neatly tied vascular system of cables, replacing vital organs with upgraded versions, singing Daisy Bell all the while; eventually sitting back and hoping that, when the thermal compound sets and electricity once again flows through its veins, I will find myself with a loyal servant once more ready to give me another four years of exploring strange new worlds and new player populations.

I guess the nubile college girls will have to wait, it turns out that I’m a gamer yet, through and through, all the way down to my quad core.

Friday 4 February 2011

KiaSAcast Episode 10

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 ten, that’s two WHOLE digits for the price of one! We’re too good to you, we really are.

This episode of the podcast includes:

– Introduction

– International MMO Soloing Championships

– Games we might play, but aren’t now for various reasons::

     – DCUO

     – Rift

     – World of Tanks

     – Planetside Next

     – Guild Wars 2

     – Firefall

     – The Secret World

     – Star Wars: The Old Republic (recorded pre Riccitiello announcement)

     – Neverwinter

Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s list of games for 2011

Download KiaSAcast Episode Ten

Thursday 3 February 2011

MMO Libido.

I realised recently, in a moment of peculiar clarity, that I’m gradually losing my MMO libido. I suppose it could be due to my age; I’m getting to that time in life where the body starts to slow down, realises that it can’t carry on at such a pace and determines to stop expending energy on activities that, at a younger age, seemed the very essence of life itself. Of course, being male, I can’t help but entertain a small burning sphere of panic in my stomach that it’s simply because I’ve been MMOing too much, that I’ve spent too much energy locked away in my bedroom furiously MMOing by myself at a young age, and then MMOing at every opportunity with others as soon as I was able.

I just don’t seem to have the raging passion for it these days. When I was younger, all I could think about was MMOing. I’d be sat in class at school and thinking about MMOing; I was desperate, a slave to my passions, so much so that I’d invent ways of sneaking out of class, finding a quiet spot somewhere, and knocking out a quick few levels, before slinking back into class. Then I’d spend the rest of the lesson worrying that everyone knew that, actually, I hadn’t been to see the nurse, and that they had (in that typical irrational teenage nightmare) all spontaneously developed the ability to read my mind, and thus knew precisely what I’d really been up to.

Maths class was always the most difficult because that’s when Mrs Fotheringby taught us. I couldn’t stop thinking about what Mrs Fotheringby would look like in a chainmail bikini, and my mind would run riot with images of her crushing orc heads between her thighs, and then admiring my wizard’s staff and asking if she could hold it for a little while. I’d often dream about going delving around in dank dungeons with her, and wake up in the night all hot and tangled-up in sweaty sheets to find that I’d logged-in and dinged a level, and I wasn’t really sure how.

It’s not that I don’t like MMOing these days, quite the contrary, it’s just that I can take it or leave it now. The passion I once had, which seemed to burn like wildfire throughout my body and enflame my very soul such that I thought I would go mad from it, has gradually dwindled to a more manageable pile of embers which can sometimes be fanned back into a flame, but mostly just gently smoulder and keep me from getting entirely cold on the whole idea. It seems to be a slow Decline over Time, a subtle DoT, the main effect of which appears to be a measured draining of my desire for MMOing.

For example, I find that I still quite enjoy watching other people play MMOs, and that when I do, it sometimes gets me in the mood to play too; but I’ve also noticed that I have many more evenings these days where I consider playing an MMO, and in the end decide to just snuggle-up, with a nice hot chocolate on the bedside table and a good book in my hands.

I’ve even tried new things in MMOs in order to spice things up a bit. I once attempted to explore my masochistic side by trying some PvP, but I quickly found that repeated butt-whippings and tea-baggings at the hands of strangers really didn’t do it for me. Well, that’s not strictly true: when you have a really good PvP MMOing it’s hard to go back to just MMOing the standard way, by yourself or with others, but such experiences are unfortunately rare, and most people in the PvP MMO scene seem to be in it simply for the abuse they can inflict on others. I bought myself a new toy a while ago too, thinking that perhaps experimenting with new ways of playing might help to spice things up a bit, and to my credit I’ve stuck with it all this while, even though it felt very strange at first and gave me cramp on numerous occasions, usually right when I was in the middle of dinging a level, which is awkward and uncomfortable and generally ruins all the effort that has gone into building up to the ding.

I would like to reiterate that I don’t have problems with MMOing, you understand, there’s no searching through patent circulars and risking links on spam emails to purchase for myself a pill that will allow me to log-in. No, my ability to log-in is unaffected, but I just find that once I’m in, I don’t have quite the drive to get to the next ding that I used to. I suppose one advantage is that it takes me a lot longer to ding these days, thus the anticipation is greater, and sometimes it can take me several tries before I ding; as a young man I could ding several times a night, but those experiences were often rushed and fumbled, and rarely resulted in any satisfaction, they were invariably empty and hollow, and merely fanned my desire to ding again, and quickly, because this time it would be more meaningful. Better experience.

In parallel with this decline in MMO libido I find that I am not so instantly smitten with the next good-looking MMO that comes along, but generally find myself wanting to stay with those that I’ve known for some time. I can still appreciate an attractive MMO with the best of them of course, but I rarely find myself slavering after it, or furiously writing lengthy prose about its every perfect detail apparent to my eyes, in a vain attempt to exorcise the demons of my passion. I find myself preferring a slightly more classical look to my MMOs, what others might now call old fashioned, and it makes me cringe to witness those that were once beauties desperately, and to my mind futilely, trying to reinvent themselves in order to compete with the younger generation. Some have aged gracefully and are as desirable to old-timers like myself as they were when we were all younger, but others have become monstrous parodies of their former selves, amorphous blobs of ill-advised and unwarranted invasive surgeries – ineffective attempts to chase after and retain the glory of their youth.

Am I worried about the decline in my MMO libido? Not really, no. If I’m honest I sometimes look wistfully at the younger generation who are still revelling in their newfound passions, and where their desires and enthusiasm seem as boundless and mysterious to them as a new-found dungeon entrance, waiting agape for someone to thrust forth and explore its darkening depths; but as I said before, I’m still able to enjoy regular MMOing, it’s just that I do so at a different pace than I used to. But no matter how much I slow down, and no matter how much my MMO libido declines, I don’t in all honesty think that I’ll ever entirely lose the urge to get myself logged-in and grind away for an hour or two, in order to experience another glorious ding.

Have I Got MMOnews For You.

News reached us via /. that

“a recently opened Benihana branch in Kuwait sued 248am.com, a well known Kuwaiti blog, for posting a bad restaurant review about its food, asking for the blog to be shut and more than $17,500 in damages (5000 KD).”

KiaSA would like to state for the record that we’ve always considered Darkfall to be one of the finest MMOs ever made; that Warhammer Online was produced with perfect execution, delivering on every promise made by Paul Barnett; the incredible grind in Aion was simply a life affirming avocation; and that Tabula Rasa was probably just misunderstood.

Vanguard was still utter arse, though.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

A scholar always treads on the path of righteousness

It’s a scholar’s life, being a scholar in LotRO. The other day I sought to improve my scholarlyness from Apprentice to Journeyman, so I schlepped over to Ered Luin for a chat with some Elf there.

“Ah, Zoso” she said “to prove to me how scholarly you are, I want you to compose a poem”
“Fair enough” said I; “There once was an Elf from Nantucket…”
“No, no, no. I want a ballad about Aiglos. You’ll need a Ruined Second Age Trinket, which you can obtain from vases found in a few terribly perilous ruins inevitably infested with hostile beasts, three Cryptic Texts from those same vases or possibly looted from the corpses of assorted monsters, and the Lost Stanzas of Aiglos which I gave to another random adventurer who promptly headed off into the middle of nowhere and got himself killed slap bang in the middle of an incredibly dangerous area.”
“Erm, right. Peril, death, peril, killing, danger, rifling through the pockets of blood-stained corpses, peril, poetry. Sounds like fairly standard academic research. I’ll get right on it. Unless…”
“Unless what?”
“Unless… well… it’s just I’ve been doing a bit of farming in my spare time, as us Historians are wont to do, and I just completed a quest for Farmer Barleymow over there to progress from being an Apprentice Farmer to Journeyman.”
“A quest, eh? That must have been challenging. I’ll wager you had to seek out an incredibly rare seed, protected by vicious birds who’ll give a nasty peck if you try and take it from them, and then you had to fertilise the seed with the dung of an albino Auroch, of which there are only known to be two, and it had to be watered with the tears of a Hero of the Second Age.”
“Not exactly, no. I had to read a book.”
“A book?”
“Yeah, The Kitchen Gardener: Grow Your Own Fruit and Veg by Alan Titchmarsh. It’s really good, lots of step by step guides, detailed pictures, it’s got a five star rating on Amazon.”
“But you had to ride for many leagues to obtain this book, no doubt?”
“He had a copy on him, just gave it to me. Or I could’ve got it delivered by 1pm the next day if I had to. Very convenient. So I was thinking, see, if there’s any profession where you ought to be able to improve your proficiency through reading, surely that would be a Scholar?”
“You’d think, wouldn’t you? Nah. Bugger off and kill some goblins.”

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Socialising on the internet is to socialising, what reality TV is to reality.

It’s not so much ’not wanting to play with others’ as much as it is ‘wanting to play with the right sort of others’.

Before introducing NPC party members and reducing the game to solo play, perhaps we could try a less drastic Facebook-style Like/Dislike for other players. A player can anonymously vote on other players that they encounter, giving them a ‘thumbs-up’ or ‘thumbs-down’ based on their experience with them. The LFD tool can then match groups of players based on their mutual like of one another.

Perhaps this is a little restrictive in a game with millions of players? What other systems do we know where millions of people can come together and find like-minded individuals who share interests via a network of friends? Thus, based on your own social network within the game – guild mates, friends list, etc. – we could also apply the ‘likeable’ weighting to players you have never played with before, based on whether your friends liked them.

Now take Slashdot’s comment system, where you can browse comments between a level of one and five, where level one will include everything from the common sense and the obvious, all the way down to the racists, trolls and other undesirables, and level five consists of only those comments that have been rated highly by others; looking at Slashdot you might begin to see a system for adjusting the level of ‘likeableness’ you’re willing to accept in your group. Set your acceptance level high and you’ll only get friends, guild mates, and people rated highly by yourself. Set it a little lower and you can open the search to those people who have been rated highly by your friends and guild mates as well.

We don’t need to remove everybody, we simply need to reduce the population down to a subset that is agreeable. At the same time, we need to cast a wider net than the one that pulls in only friends and guild mates.

If MMOs want to insist that they are games where people come together to socialise and play, if they want to justify their requirement of an Internet connection and payment models outside of the box price, then they could do a lot worse than look to the successes of the social networking sites before eliminating multiplayer society from MMOs altogether.