Friday 30 September 2011

It could be the best of MMOGs, it could be the worst of MMOGs

Fallout: New Vegas would make a great MMOG. Some tweaks would be needed; it starts well for a single player game, as you’re shot and left for dead. I say “well”, I mean it gives an immediate hook with good strong motivation to find your assailant, obviously the whole being-shot-in-the-head business puts a bit of a crimp on your plans for the day. As you pursue your shooter with the firm intention of giving the cheeky scamp a stern talking to, possibly even boxing his ears, you’re introduced to the other factions fighting for control of the Mojave, and the stakes get progressively higher (as befits a Vegas-oriented game) until your actions have deep and far-reaching consequences for the whole region.

A problem I found was the more important I became in the world-changing struggle, the less engaged I felt; I didn’t really want to have the fate of the region resting on my shoulders, but none of the competing factions seemed ideal ranging as they did from “evil murdering nutters” through “broadly benevolent (but still a nutter)” to “generally all right for the most part but a bit inflexible and perhaps a smidge too expansionist to really get behind (though at least not, so far as I can tell, nutters)”. I felt compelled, therefore, to seize power myself, for altruistic reasons rather than megalomaniac tendencies, but even then things didn’t quite work out precisely as I would’ve liked. Still, as Oscar Wilde said (when he was lead singer of the Stones) “you can’t always get what you want”.

It wasn’t as much of a letdown as Fallout 3, where I really felt railroaded at the end after a great start, I felt more in control of what was going on, but like the previous game, for me Fallout was most satisfying when more intimate, wandering around the wasteland uncovering desolate shacks, abandoned mines, communities barely scratching out an existence, or best of all the trademark vaults, underground bunkers built to survive the nuclear apocalypse, excellent places to shelter apart from the tiny issue that most of them turned out to be horrific psychological experiments.

That’s why it would be a great MMOG; after all they seldom have a single main story, more a series of areas, zones or dungeons, sometimes with linking threads but rarely as the main focus. I finished off the main New Vegas game, just to see what happens, then reloaded from a point before the final act kicked off and did some more exploring, and ran through the DLC packs. The structure seems like it would fit a virtual world really well, just lose the central plot and turn the players loose.

Fallout: New Vegas would make a terrible MMOG. The problem is that turning other players loose in the world would ruin it. It could support a few, no doubt; there are several companions you can join up with in the course of the game, with their own backgrounds and stories, almost like human party members (only far more obedient). Scale up to tens, hundreds, maybe thousands of players, though, and everything breaks down. A while back I suggested the Azerothian census would break down as “0.4% – Farming (livestock & dairy); 0.5% – Farming (arable); 0.8% – Innkeepers; 1.4% – Retail; 97.9% – The Chosen One Who Will Rid This World Of Evil. Slightly tongue in cheek, of course, WoW doesn’t really push your character as *the* Chosen One, but even when you’re not personally responsible for saving the entire galaxy, in the vast majority of games your character has a disproportionate effect on the world; as per another old post, “Over the course of Call of Duty 1, 2 and expansion packs, I’ve been personally responsible for wiping out approximately two and a half Axis infantry divisions, four armoured regiments and a few squadrons of dive bombers in the bits where you get hold of an anti-aircraft gun. By those measures, the invasion and liberation of continental Europe in 1944 would have required a total Allied force of twenty three people, and seven of those just to fill in when others had to go AFK for their tea.”

That disparity forces compromises in MMOGs like endlessly respawning mobs, instancing, and the generally unchanging nature of the world. Exploring vaults in New Vegas can be creepy, intriguing or action-packed (frequently all three), perhaps one was overrun and inhabited by a slaver gang, you clear them out, kill their leader, and report back to a nearby farming community that they should be a bit safer now. The impact would be pretty much removed if everything had reset the next day (or next minute), and you ran back through it again with four random people in the hope that the slaver leader would drop a nice item this time, but that would at least be better than turning up and finding players had been there six months ago, killed anything that moved and stripped the place of anything that could be carried.

In a perfect (virtual) world, those other players could have claimed the vault for themselves and set up a community there, that you could trade with, or join, or attack, but games structured in that way don’t really appeal. The *theory* is splendid, I find things like Ganakalicious’ Sandbox Challenge interesting, but the practise, so far, isn’t for me (“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.”) Call me a rampant egotist, but I like being a superman, and the majority of single player games suggest it’s not just me. It doesn’t have to be at the “saviour of the universe” (ahh ah) level, I wasn’t so keen when New Vegas was really ramping up my personal significance to the region, but even down in local, isolated cases you’re pretty special; one man, up against an entire gang of gun-toting slavers, armed with nothing more than a pistol? (And a sniper rifle. And a couple of submachine guns. And a thermal lance for close up stuff. And a robot dog.) Just another day in the computer gaming office.

I’m not sure what the chances are for an actual Fallout MMO, with the protracted legal wranglings. I’m sure it’ll be worth a look if something does get released, but for wandering around a virtual world (albeit offline), it’s hard to beat Fallout: New Vegas. Especially with the fantastic Old World Blues DLC pack.

Looking good and dressing well is a necessity. Having a purpose in life is not.

I joked about the size of shoulder pads in LotRO’s raiding armour sets a while ago, but I have to be fair and confess that in general I love the cosmetic options in Lord of the Rings Online.

I’m following a few blogs dedicated to discovering the more delightful clothing designs the game has to offer, and who then turn them into rather magnificent outfits. As always, A Casual Stroll to Mordor tipped me in the right direction via the Cosmetic Roundtable episode of their podcast, and Cosmetic LotRO, LotRO Fashion and LotRO Stylist are the blogs which I primarily follow for fashion tips on how to look dapper in Middle Earth.

I haven’t started into the actual quest content in Rise of Isengard yet because I’m still finishing some reputation grinds on my Warden, which I want to complete before moving on, but I have to say that the evidence from the blogs listed above is that there are many items with deeply lovely cosmetic appearances to be had in the new expansion. Of note for me so far are the Polished Hauberk of the Dunland Shieldman; most of the items in this outfit, but I particularly like the Leather Helm of the Leaping Stag and the Boar-Hide Boots; and the Reputation Armour outfit at the bottom of this post, hidden amongst the Giant Shoulder Pads of +5 LOOK AT ME, I’M A RAIDER!

If you enjoy creating costumes for your characters in LotRO I can’t recommend these sites enough, but be warned: once started it will take you down a dark path of extra bank slot, wardrobe slot and outfit slot purchases, crafting mania, and much time spent hunting around in old content looking for the perfect cravat to go with the rest of your seventeenth cosmetic outfit, which is primarily designed for use when fishing in large lakes – not to be confused with the twelfth outfit for fishing in small ponds and streams, and the sixth outfit for use when fishing for compliments.

Thursday 29 September 2011

My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.

“It’s just the beginning, it’s not the end. Things will never be the same again.” so sayeth the Melanie C, and so sayeth we all; starting afresh in City of Heroes has been a strange experience.

City of Heroes holds a special place in the hareem of my mind: a voluminous plump cushion where it rests with all the grapes that it can love and eunuchs it can eat. Although CoH wasn’t my first, it was the one which showed me exciting new ways of thinking about MMOing. It looked upon the standard MMO missionary position which I’d performed with Dark Age of Camleot for some time, and laughed, then MMOed me in ways which blew my mind. At the time, CoH was the Kama Sutra of MMO, providing such flexibility and originality that you’d watch someone else MMOing in CoH and have to turn your head on its side, one way then the other, and repeat this several times before you managed to work out which bit of the player was going where, and what that extra thing was, and… can one of those do that? There? I mean, doesn’t that hurt? At the time, it didn’t hurt; it was the most free MMO love I have ever experienced, and although other games have since come along and offered reflections of this pleasure, it was never quite as pure, as though you’d filmed yourself MMOing with CoH and were watching it back while MMOing with that other game.

The problem with returning to CoH and starting a new character is that the game insists in instructing you about MMOing all over again. And I know quite a lot about MMOing now. In fact I think I could teach CoH a thing or two, but of course it won’t let me. So where before, when I first played the game, a level one superhero seemed a force to be reckoned with, because they could leap over high walls and thock ne’er-do-wells into submission in less time than it took for one power to activate in DAoC, I now feel frustrated by the fact that I’m forced to play a ‘low power’ superhero and have to wait for almost forty levels before my character blossoms into awesomeness (blawesomes?). It’s the eternal bane of the Levelling Game: a low level character only seems great and powerful that first time. Every alt and re-roll is diminished for the player who has a character which has reached the level cap, and these sapling characters forever sit in the shade of the tremendous canopy of power that full grown characters enjoy. Levels, like tree rings, reflect age, strength and success, and those without them will always be comparatively delicate; yet those young trees which haven’t had to sit within the giant shadow of their peers must surely seem as gods to the flowers and shrubs upon which they gaze down.

It’s not really any wonder that World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm revamp didn’t tempt the majority of players into re-rolling.

A low power hero seems strange as soon as the comparison is made with an end-game hero, rather than the equal level NPCs that currently surround the low level character. And what is a low power hero anyway? Or an end-game hero? Surely an end-game hero is really a superhero proper, in which case how do we define the low power hero? Perhaps there exists a scale of heroism:

NoobHero -> Middlinghero -> Finehero -> Splendidhero -> Goshhero -> Superhero

And if not… well, it exists now. A noobhero starts with a couple of powers, both of which miss with alarming frequency, and thus there are many occasions where I find my character standing around waiting for his powers to recharge while a group of thugs beat him with baseball bats, and I imagine him whimpering “not the face!” as they pummel him. It’s a curious situation, like reading a comic where Dr David Banner is exposed to a massive overdose of gamma radiation whereupon he develops the ability to grow abnormally huge, but only develops super strength much later. Thus his entire first year of fighting crime involves explosively growing in size in the hope that, as his trousers disintegrate, a stray fly button might ping off and hit a criminal in the eye.

Of course when you start to gather noobheroes into a group, which, let’s face it, is the Way It’s Meant To Be Played, the whole affair becomes a lot less jarring. At a basic level, while your abilities are on cooldown after having entirely missed every attack, someone else can at least be attacking in the meantime! It’s a bit Captain Planet at the lower levels, in that eight noobheroes, with their powers combined, can form the slightly out of the ordinary Moderately Threatening Man! Nevertheless there’s a chaotic freedom to the way CoH empowers group play, and I find myself being reminded that MMOing with a group of friends can be a lot less regimented, a lot more wild and free, and isn’t free MMOing what it’s all about, man?

City of Heroes has been free to play for many years. So very free with its play. And now that it no longer requires a subscription, there’s really no excuse not to play. To paraphrase Lazarus Long, however, do remember:

MMOing solo is cheap, clean, convenient, and free of any possibility of wrongdoing — and you don’t have to go home in the cold.

But it’s lonely.

City of Heroes has once again reminded me that MMOs are still at their very best when you bring friends.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

KiaSAcast Episode 13

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 thirteen.

This episode of the podcast includes:

– Radio KiaSA presents more David Ragefury and Steve Wiseman

– Coming soon to KiaSA-TV

– Introduction

– Games which we’re currently playing, have played, have burnt out on, or might play soon, including::

     – City of Heroes

     – Lord of the Rings Online

     – Dungeons and Dragons Online

     – World of Tanks

– Plus various other topics as and when we sidetracked onto them.

Bonus quiz: see if you can work out how long ago we recorded this show, based on the release dates mentioned which have since passed. Slow Podcast-Editing Melmoth is slow.

Download KiaSAcast Episode Thirteen

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Before machines the only form of entertainment people really had was relationships

MMOG bloggers have a relationship with the games they play. Some are happily settled in a committed long-term marriage with a single game, others promiscuously flit from game to game, sometimes keeping several on the go at once. When a relationship ends it can be in a blazing row with suitcases of cosmetic items tearfully flung from upstairs windows and a lengthy series of mascara-smeared posts that reveal rather more about the psychological state of the player than the game; I like to think I’m a bit more considered. Hey, look, things aren’t really working out are they? It’s not you, though, it’s me. Well, maybe it’s you a bit. We had some good times, though, didn’t we? Let’s keep in touch, especially now you’re not demanding money off me regularly, maybe I’ll come back if it turns out that good looking new game doesn’t have much going on behind that attractive facade. Maybe if you added a few new tricks to your repetoire, that wouldn’t hurt. You know, like that thing that other game does that I really like? Or if you had a bit of work done, you’re looking a little tired around the edges…

OK, that’s getting slightly creepy, probably best back away slowly from that analogy now before otters get involved. Me and Lord of the Rings Online, though, we’ve been drifting apart for a little while. Nothing wrong on the part of LotRO, it’s still a top-notch MMOG with a lovely world, excellent variety of things to do and a good “freemium” price model, I was just hitting that point, as I’ve done a few times previously, where I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for killing ten things, or collecting five other things, or tromping through a dungeon to kill a boss who might drop a thing that two or three of the party need that if you win the roll for you can take back to an NPC to get a thing that was made obsolete by the legendary thing you got two levels ago… It’s perhaps slightly unfortunate timing, what with the Isengard expansion going live even as I type, but I get the impression that it’s mostly aimed at characters at the end-game, and I hadn’t even quite made it into Moria, the first of the three expansions.

Fortuitously City of Heroes is putting the FREEM! into “freemium” as it ditches mandatory subscriptions, and with a general sense of ennui in the Fellowship(s) it seems like a fine time to take some very sage advice and play Game Y instead of Game X for a bit. As City of Heroes was my first MMOG I always have something of a soft spot for it, and it was fantastic fun to get back into the mayhem of a team of eight flinging themselves into massive crowds of villainy, fireballs, radiation blasts and photocopiers being hurled with reckless abandon (and snooker tables) (and table lamps) (gravity control is a brilliant power). There’s a possibility that nostalgia is playing a big part and it won’t be a long term thing, like bumping into someone at a school reunion, having a fantastic time and arranging to meet up again, then slowly realising that you have nothing in common any more and there’s only so long you can reminisce about that time Cliffy Prodger drank seventeen cans of non-alcoholic shandy at the school disco, proclaimed himself “trollied” and ran around the hall wearing his trousers as a headband; why fret about the future, though, when there are photocopiers to fling?

Friday 23 September 2011

Hail, Bard Triumphant! and some care bestow On us, the Poets Militant Below!

The design of musical classes in several MMOs has often bugged me; I wrote about it back in 2007 with respect to LotRO’s Minstrel, and later I found Rift’s Bard to be of a similar nature.

“[…] The Minstrel, could work very well: I like playing support and healing classes, and this was a strong consideration for a while, but I’ve played healing classes to death in WoW, and the whole Minstrel ‘strumming his instrument in the middle of battle’, if you know what I mean, just seems a bit weird.

“Hey guys, here’s a little number I wrote the other day.”
“Die! Die! Die! You Orc bastards!”
“Thank you. Thank you. I’ll be here until the end of the battle. Try the salmon it’s delicious.”

This morning my brain peeled open like a xenomorph’s egg, and an idea slowly felt its way out with probing, grasping legs. So I thought I’d release it into the wild, in the hope that it will lay its own eggs within the chest cavity of a suitable host, where the essence of the idea can gestate, and burst forth in gory glory one day.

Google Search tells me that it’s not an entirely original idea. Google Search is an arse. “Oh, you thought you had an original idea, did you? Well, here are 52,300 results that I think you’ll find are of a similar vein. And I found them in but a little over 0.15 seconds. Mweh, mweh, mweh!” Oh shush, you.

Regardless, the simple idea was to have a special sword with which the Bard/Minstrel attacks. The blade of the sword has been masterfully crafted with holes along the length of the blade, as well as a myriad of tiny tubes which run from the hilt down most of the length of the blade. The grip of the sword has keywork similar to a clarinet. As such, the Bard/Minstrel’s weapon ‘sings’ as it is swung through the air, and the art of the class comes from channelling their magical song through carefully practised sword strokes. Thus the class attacks in melee and sings at the same time, accompanied by the music of their weapon. Out of combat buffs, healing and the like, would still come from a natural musical instrument, but I liked the idea of a musical MMO class that could stand in the midst of battle and channel their songs and chants, while not having to whip out a delicate lute and carefully strum ‘I care not for these ladies’ towards a rapidly approaching enormous armoured ogre crotch.

Thursday 22 September 2011

I came here to drink milk and kick ass.

Lord of the Rings Online had my character planting marigolds the other day. You might wonder whether these were giant, orc-eating marigolds, marigolds which, when full grown, would uproot themselves and, in bright yellow array, stride determinedly and gaily into battle with the forces of Sauron, like some sort of Mardi Gras edition of the The Last March of the Ents. But alas no, these were basic marigolds. Level one marigolds. Marigold noobs.

Why was I planting these marigolds, then? A good question, but a dangerous one, for one might answer with the question ‘why do I perform any given task in an MMO?’, which in turn prompts the question ‘why do I play MMOs?’ After these then surely ‘why do I play games?’ quickly follows, and then ‘why do I need entertainment?’ More questions develop in ever quicker succession: ‘what is that nature of entertainment?’, ‘what is my nature?’, ‘what is nature?’, ‘what am I?’, ‘why do I exist?’, ‘in what medium do I exist?’, ‘why does the medium in which I exist, exist?’, ‘by what form or power did the medium in which I exist come into existence?’, ‘what existed before the medium in which I currently exist?’, ‘WHAT’S THE POINT OF ANYTHING IN THE CONTEXT OF THE INFINITE COMPLEXITIES OF THE UNIVERSE, TIME AND SPACE?’.

Of course the actual answer to the original question should be a brusque ‘because a lazy hobbit NPC told me to’ (possibly accompanied by a sharp backhand cuffing of the questioner’s head), an answer which is shorter, more accurate, and comes with considerably less existential crisis.

Of course my Captain had a little trouble mastering the quest at first, being that she’d spent sixty five levels primarily slaying monsters and undomesticated livestock:

Hobbit: “So, first we need to dig a small hole in the ground…”
Hobbit: “Okay, well, that is quite the hole. Quite the hole, indeed. But, well, I think the greathammer is perhaps a little too destructive, shall we maybe perhaps try a trowel?”
Captain: “Ah, right, sorry.”
Hobbit: “Lovely! Now, we need to break the plant out of its pot.”
Captain: “I could hit it with my greathammer!”
Hobbit: “I… think it would be best if we just gently eased around the edges with this palette knife, and then carefully lifted the plant out by the stem.”
Captain: “Oh, okay.”
Hobbit: “Then we place it gently in the hole we made earlier, and fill-”
Captain: “-ed with righteous fury, we hit it with our greathammer?!”
Hobbit: “-it with earth. Fill it with earth.”
Captain: “Right! Riiiiight. Sorry.”
Hobbit: “There, all done.”
Captain: “And now I hit it with my greathammer?”
Hobbit: “No! No. You just leave it. Water it once in a while.”
Captain: “I… see. When…”
Hobbit: “Yes?”
Captain: “When you say ‘water’, do you mean ‘hit it with a greathammer’?”
Hobbit: “Noooo, when I say ‘water’ I do in fact mean ‘*water*’. Say it with me: waaaaa-”
Captain: “Hiiiiii-”
Hobbit: “-terrrrrrrrr”
Captain: “-titwithagreathammer.”

The maddening part of this quest, however, was the countdown bar. Each planted marigold required a bar to count down for three years. Or maybe seven seconds. Time dilates when you’re watching a countdown bar in an MMO, it’s much like waiting for a kettle to boil only the steam is coming out of your ears instead. You can’t fool a countdown bar like you can a kettle either: pointedly ignore a kettle and it boils over instantly, mad to be made into tea, but ignore a countdown bar and when you return you find that it’s sat there waiting for you in that evil ‘you were going to miss it so I held on for you’ way, the same way your partner keeps tiresome Uncle Prodger talking on the phone until you get back from your desperate dash to ‘the toilet’, a dash which just happened to coincide with your glancing at the Caller ID on the phone as it rang.

I can’t remember how many marigolds I had to plant, five, ten, Graham’s Number, it was plenty enough, of that I’m certain. I came to hate that countdown bar. I cursed it. I railed at it. I found a whiteboard marker and drew graffiti on it: moustaches, devil horns, rude messages regarding a good time if you call this number and ask for Countdown Bar. I did have to stop and hurriedly wipe it all off when Mrs Melmoth caught me putting the finishing touches to a magnificent phallus that emptied along it’s length as the countdown bar ticked away, however.

And the upshot of this is that I’m now unable to walk past a barometer without wanting to grab it off the wall and dash it angrily to the floor.

The problem doesn’t stem from the inherent nature of the countdown, but in the way it is used. Deus Ex: Human Revolution also has a countdown when you play its hacking mini-game, and yet it is an entirely different experience. The countdown in the LotRO quest is there to make you wait, wait for no reason, and do nothing else while you wait. It makes you wait, that’s what it does (you may want to play Leftfield’s Phat Planet as you read that sentence), it’s a negative form of countdown, which achieves nothing other than to drive the player’s attention out of the game. The countdown in Deus Ex is a positive countdown because it is counting down to the point when the task you are performing will fail. What this countdown does is increase the pressure on the player, and thus it makes the game-play more intense, while also drawing the player’s concentration further into the game as they focus harder in an attempt to complete the mini-game in time. There are many design considerations to study here, not least of which is the fact that MMOs seem to have an aversion to letting players fail outside of the end-game, and therefore challenges such as the Deus Ex hacking mini-game are few and far between. Yet these sorts of challenges are the very thing that makes a game a game, rather than a grind. Super Mario wouldn’t be half as popular if the levels were five times as long but it was guaranteed that the player would be able to reach the end every time.

The countdown in LotRO stops you playing the game; the countdown in Deus Ex influences how you continue to play the game.

It also didn’t help that the animation for planting a marigold looked more like an attempt to call down the Dove From Above, something which stands out all the more starkly when you have nothing else to do but stare at it for seven seconds. Be mindful of the Dove From Above though, after catching me drawing a big willy on my computer screen, I think it almost broke Mrs Melmoth when she later walked in and this time found me cooing at the screen like a dove.

The final annoyance is that you cannot stop calling the dove/planting marigolds once you’ve started, otherwise you have to start all over again. This further enhances the feeling that this isn’t a progress countdown, but a pointless delay countdown, a bureaucracy countdown. “Please Wait. Please Wait. Please Wait. Your subscription time has now reduced by an acceptable amount, please continue”. It’s frankly bizarre that planting a marigold should involve no movement whatsoever (FREEZE! Raise your hands slowly, and step away from the keyboard!), and that if you break that condition then you have to start all over again.

“Excuse me, Marjorie, I just need to squeeze past so I can start on the pumpkins.”
“No, I cannot move, you know this Pruscilla, I’m quite clearly in the midst of planting.”
“Oh come now, just shuffle over a little, and you can carry on with what you’re doing while I get on with the pumpkins.”
“No! I must not stop, otherwise all is lost! I’m risking everything just by talking to you. Just by breeeaaaaathing!”
“Marjorie, really, just move out of the way a little-”
“No DON’T! Oh you! Well I hope you’re happy!”
“Goodness me, dearest, I barely brushed you.”
“Nevertheless, I have been interrupted. I shall have to abandon these plants and start all over again.

Now, did you see where I put my greathammer?”

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Have I Got MMOnews For You

Host: This week, teams, news that a study into “games transfer phenomena” has caused an outbreak of “misleading sensationalist headline phenomena“. Have you got any examples of gaming bleeding through into reality?

Melmoth: I found myself performing a repetitive series of tasks in exchange for remuneration once and thought I was experiencing “games transfer phenomena” from MMOG questing, but it turned out to be something called “a job”.

Zoso: There was that one time I played SimCity for three days straight and found I’d accidentally restructured our town to have a far more efficient mass transit system. The giant dinosaur attack came as a bit of a surprise, though.

Melmoth: Perhaps there’s a link to the recent reports of unexplained damage to huge mushroom crops, as though they’d been repeatedly jumped on?

Zoso: I heard of an incident where a reporter was repeatedly punched and he was convinced his assailants were inspired by Grand Theft Auto, Street Fighter or possible Wii Sports Boxing, but they insisted it was just because he worked for the Daily Mail.

Melmoth: Apparently the Acme Crate Company have had to revise their recruitment policy after a new warehouse worker smashed up their entire stock with a crowbar, then complained that he hadn’t found a single round of ammunition or first aid kit.

Zoso: Brigadier General Sir Cliff Prodger expressed surprise during recent army exercises on Salisbury Plain when an armoured battalion forswore their usual tactics and instead drove straight for the enemy base screeching “TANK RUSH KEKEKEKEKEKEKEKEKEKE”. It proved highly effective, though, to the point that the defenders rage-left the exercise halfway through, declaring their opponents to be “lamers”.

Melmoth: It’s been encouraging to see the huge increase in fitness levels as people spend their entire time running everywhere. The related increase in pub brawls due to spilt pints has negated this positive impact somewhat, however, as has the increase in replacement knee operations due to the amount of time spent running while crouching.

Zoso: There was that time I went into a room with black and white chequered tiles on the floor, and could only move across it in a series of ‘L’ shapes. The strangest thing was I’ve never even played chess.

Melmoth: I mean, there’s definitely been an increase in the number of street fights between buxom ladies dressed in thong leotards, qipao and cheerleader outfits.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Thought for the day

Massively report that for neck-bitey MMO World of Darkness “it’s CCP’s desire to emulate LARPing (live-action roleplaying) as much as possible […] with plenty of metaplots running inside the game and without” (my emphasis).

Can’t wait for the Goons to kick down the virtual walls between EVE and World of Darkness, take a Titan through, and hover there threatening to vaporise the planet unless all the vampires transfer their monocles to a nominated corporation…

Monday 19 September 2011

It is infectious and, though intermittent, incurable.

KiaSA’s Ministry for Abstract Diseases released a statement today warning of a virulent form of Warcraft Inter-scapula Disorder Extension spreading throughout the MMO population. Indicators for the potential epidemic became evident when samples taken from Turbine’s Isengard expansion were released to KiaSA’s top scientists. As is evident from the example shown, the disease manifests itself in massive shoulder pads forming on the body, extending in an exaggerated fashion in all directions. W.I.D.E. has been evident within the MMO space for many years, but up until now it has been predominantly confined to the World of Warcraft domain, with minor outbreaks occurring in derivative MMOs from time to time. This latest development is of particular concern to top scientists, however, because it shows spread of the contagion to Lord of the Rings Online, an MMO which has proven remarkably resistant to the strain until now.

KiaSA’s top researcher, Clifford Prodger, explained that Turbine have so far managed to contain the spread of infection by locking the infected pieces of armour behind painfully tedious raid content grinds, but nevertheless KiaSA’s Ministry for Abstract Diseases did release an advisory to its members to be vigilant and search for signs of infection in fellow players in the coming months: massively impractical shoulder pads being a primary indicator, but players should also be on the lookout for ludicrously oversized weapons, and any sign of exaggerated auras on armour (possibly in combination with weird orbiting magical artefacts) within the general population.

KiaSA’s Ministry for Abstract Diseases has raised its priority warning system from ‘Xanadu Egg Whisk’ to ‘Magenta Brazilian Wax’ as a precautionary measure.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Thought for the day.

It’s been a fairly quiet summer for MMO updates.

Which is why LotRO’s considerable Isengard expansion, DDO’s Update 11 with new Artificer class, and City of Heroes’ freemium Issue 21, have all decided to launch now, within a week or so of one another. Because they’re all trying to kill me with MMO overload after several months of deprivation, clearly.

Living with current MMO release schedules is like existing alone on a deserted island which is visited once a year by five different carnivals, all at the same time, for one week.

Wednesday 14 September 2011


“What’s the situation, McKenzie?”

“We’ve got a dead elf, chief.”


“Estimates put the victim somewhere between sixteen years and seven thousand years old.”

“Oh great. What about dental records?”

“Yup, checked those; their teeth were absolutely fine.”

“Hmmm. Male or female?”

“Again, hard to know, I’m afraid.”

“Christ, the attack was that brutal?”

“No, no, we just can’t tell the difference.”

“Well what about clothing, any clues?”

“The victim was wearing very little, because of that we’re thinking that either the victim was in bed at the time, the attack was sexually motivated, or…”

“OR we’re looking at a heavily armoured high ranking member of the female warrior caste.”

“Right chief.”

“Blood spatter results back from the lab yet?”

“It’s weird, although there are clear indications that the victim was attacked with some sort of bladed weapon we couldn’t find any blood. Anywhere.”

“Damn it! Not much to go on. What about the neighbours?”

“Neighbours aren’t talking, guv. At least, not until we’ve given them three hundred and forty seven wolf paws, or one hundred and seventy four slightly better warg paws.”

“Johnson, get to work on that; we’ve got a reputation to maintain.”

“Right you are, boss.”

“Okay they weren’t much for dressing, but did you find anything on the body?”

“Yes guv, a couple of bits and pieces: one hundred and twelve glass bottles containing sundry potions, four broadswords, an axe, a dagger, a tower shield, a crossbow and six hundred bolts, eleven hundred feet of rope, fourteen boar spleens, twenty six goblin toes, a dress, three chainmail shirts, ten recipes, a pet badger in a cage, two horses, seventeen different barbequed foodstuffs, a quarter tonne of iron ore, a garden statue, a bearskin rug, a lute and a map.”

“Nothing out of the ordinary there. What about bank records?”

“We checked with the bank, in recent weeks they’ve deposited one hundred and twenty different styles of hat. We can’t really underst…”



“The body, it’s gone!”

“Stolen? But nobody could have got in here…”

“How can it jus… Cole!”


“Go and check with the neighbours, find out if they saw anything!”

“Already have, guv. They won’t talk until we’ve planted two beds of marigolds, painted the fence out front and…”

“Blast it! Gentlemen, it looks as though we have a traitor in our midst.”

“Hallo, what are you all doing in my house?”

“You! You’re… alive?”

“Yes of course I am. I came back to life three towns over and I’ve been running back for the last two hours. What the hell are you all doing?”

“W-we were, uh, trying to work out how you’d died so we could avenge you.”

“Gruk’s sake! Next time just give me a damned rez, then ASK!”

“Well there’s not much detective work in that, is there?!

Speaking of which, just between us, are you male or female? We really couldn’t…”


Next week on CSI:MMO – The team faces new challenges when confronted with the murder of an undead barkeep from Chester.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Also coming soon to KiaSA-TV

Don’t worry if sports aren’t really your thing, KiaSA-TV has plenty of other new series coming to the Autumn schedules!

Cash In The Bank Vault: A cash-strapped character calls in a team of experts to rummage through their bank vault to find items to sell off to raise the money for a new mount. Will Gostekillah’s dented shield, level three shortsword and pile of boar intestines reach their 500 gold target at auction?

Who Do You Think You Were?: The award winning documentary series continues investigating character genealogy. This week, with the help of Blizzard’s server transfer and name change records, an Undead Warrior is surprised to find she started out as a male Night Elf.

Strictly Mailbox Dancing: Eight amazing celebrities including a backing singer who once featured on a song that reached number 37 in the charts in 1986, the male sock model from the Littlewoods catalogue and a Liberal Democrat district councillor from Chipping Norton are matched up with professional mailbox dancers to choreograph and perform a mailbox dance, starting at the inn in Redridge and building up to the grand final outside the Ironforge auction house. There’s a new judging panel this year featuring Illidan Stormrage as The Nasty One(tm) after Grom Hellscrem slightly misunderstood his brief to provide “cutting feedback” in the last series and sliced up Torquay United’s reserve goalkeeper from the ’92-’93 season and an actress who briefly appeared in four episodes of EastEnders.

The Auction House Roadshow: Cold-eyed money-grabbers queue up with items for appraisal by a panel of experts, claiming they “got them for a couple of coppers in a jumble sale in Sillithus” or “inherited them from Uncle Bob after he inadvisedly tried to solo a dragon” when everyone knows they used a plugin to buy them from auction in the hope of a quick profit. Viewers are really waiting the expert’s verdict “Well, it’s a lovely piece; valyrian steel blade and a beautiful enamel inlay on the hilt. Of course before the 3.4.9 patch these were incredibly sought after, but since the nerf to the swing speed the value has really plummeted to a couple of gold, perhaps double that for insurance purposes”, and seeing how convincingly the owner can lie through gritted teeth “oh the value isn’t important at all, we just really loved the design of it”.

Have I Got MMOnews For You: Nah, that would never work.

Monday 12 September 2011

Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life.

There’s a carousel looping around inside my head, and as it passes each ear on its circumnavigation of the interior of my skull the faint looping echo of It’s a Small World can be heard. The carousel reflects the madness in my mind of this musical memory, sometimes LOUD, sometimes quiet, sometimes near, sometimes far, often times fast, then slow; the tune has been with me for such a time that I’m no longer sure that it’s driving me mad, but instead the extended captivity it has endured within my brain is slowly driving the song itself insane. Every now and then it makes a bid for freedom, I feel it travel downwards and catch, trying to burst forth from the back of my throat, but I hold it fast in the fear that releasing its week-long pent up energy will result in more than just my gentle vocalisation of its harmonies. The nightmare begins with a gentle humming which quickly progresses into a jaunty whistle, which is when my work colleagues start performing harmonies, and before I know it I’m in the midst of a full-on Mary Poppins-esque musical number, with people leaning out of offices to deliver lines and choruses, and yet others dancing down the aisles swishing frilly skirts and rolling top hats down their arms. It quickly degenerates from there, mimicking the pink elephants on parade from Dumbo, at which point I snap back to reality and find the song has returned to the carousel in my mind, quietly echoing its way between my ears once more – Disney’s precursor to the Rickroll.

Other than that, I returned from Disneyland relatively unscathed.

I’m on holiday in Lord of the Rings Online at the moment too. Having achieved the last of my own end-game goals –legendary weapons, mounts, relevant reputations and virtues, and crafting all now at their maximums– I’m loath to login and try to force new tasks upon myself, especially with the gnarled fingers of Mirkwood parting and the lands surrounding Isengard quickly coming into view. The new expansion is sure to offer ten more levels of boars to kill, and I wouldn’t want to burn out on the game beforehand. For the moment, then, I’m happy to perform a few daily skirmishes to keep my 1-2-3-4 keys warm, and because you can never have too many skirmish marks, especially with this season’s fabulous range of Isengardian cosmetic hats just around the corner.

The Monday static group continues on regardless, probably. The timing of the expansion is possibly a fortuitous one, with the ever starker realisation that our casual one-per-week gaggle of castaways is not really suited to much of the end game’s content, which is where the crest of the levelling wave beached us many months ago. Unfortunately, as with any group, become stranded on the end-game island without really having the tools or willingness to tackle the challenges it provides, and things inevitably start to go a bit Lord of the Flies after a while. I started painting faces on, and talking to, horse bums, and by his own report it seems as though Van Hemlock had a brief brush with conch smashing, although the only thing killed was perhaps the momentarily elevated level of hope and enthusiasm for raid content within the group. Certainly my enthusiasm has not waned for bumming around on the beach of end-game and dipping my toes in the waters surrounding it. Perhaps, as with real life castaways, such unwillingness to be productive as a group would eventually be the death of it all, but thankfully Turbine seem to turn up and build a lengthy bridge to the next desert island shortly before we all perform the MMO equivalent of putting on face paint and turning feral. Looking on the bright side, there are plenty of wild pig heads to be had in MMOs, should we want to make a sacrifice to the Beast of Raiding that haunts and torments all casual groups in MMOs. It’s still all about the companionship of others as far as I’m concerned, and I would be happy inventing new and interesting ways to make running the otherwise ‘on farm’ Grand Stair instance a challenge, as long as people were still merrily joking, discussing, gossiping, quipping, or gently mocking the group’s Captain, over Mumble.

In the meantime, outside of Monday night, I’m going to briefly slow my MMO playing in anticipation of the glut of grindy gaming goodness that will come with LotRO’s Isengard expansion. As such I’ve reignited my XBox Live account, warmed up the console, and ordered myself copies of Space Marine and Gears of War 3, because firing-up fast, furious and frantic co-op shooters always seems a suitable antipode on the gaming globe to the more plodding, ponderous and prosaic nature of the games currently found on the MMO continent.

Thursday 8 September 2011

We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be

I’ve been running World of Tanks as a Premium player for the past four or five months, a subscription-ish option that gives a 50% bonus to XP and credits at the end of each match. You buy in-game gold with real money, then buy Premium status (for 1, 3, 7 or 30 days) with that gold, so the exact price per month depends on how much gold you buy in the first place and how long you opt for Premium status. As with so many digital currency systems the more gold you buy the less it costs per unit, thus you can argue you’re saving money by spending more in the first place, but unless you have great self-control then the more gold you have kicking around the easier it is to succumb to the temptation of using it to just upgrade the training on a couple of your tank crew, oh and convert some into credits to fund a new tank, and heck why not buy one of those premium tanks while we’re here… You can use that as further proof of the Satanic corrupting nature of hell-spawn microtransactions if you really want, but it’s hardly different from picking up a kilogram bag of pistachio nuts instead of one or two smaller packs, convincing yourself you’ll just have a handful now and again, and winding up on the sofa that night with an empty bag, surrounded by shells, trying to use a remote control as a makeshift nutcracker to get into those last few nuts that didn’t open properly.

Keeping up Premium status (plus some experience conversion and the odd credit splurge) has cost me about £50 since launch, which is pretty reasonable with no initial box fee, especially for the amount I’ve been playing (1,500-odd battles so far), I certainly don’t begrudge what I’ve spent, but as the Premium counter ticked down at the start of this week and I contemplated buying another pack of gold to top it up I’d been thinking about pricing, and I decided to hold off and see how things work out as a completely free player.

I’ve generally been slowing down a bit anyway; after darting around various tank types over all three nationalities up to Tier IV or V I’ve settled on two main vehicles, a Russian Tier VII tank destroyer (SU-152) and heavy tank (IS), and a daily routine: get in from work, switch on Pointless (a rather fun BBC quiz show) and try and get one win with each tank. The game and quiz complement each other nicely; Pointless, like just about every quiz show bar University Challenge and Mastermind, drags everything out with jingles, rules explanations, deliberations over answers and awkward chats with the contestants, and each World of Tanks match starts with a 30 second countdown then a lot of cautious manoeuvring for position, unless someone goes a bit mental and heads straight for the enemy at top speed. The multitasking does break down occasionally; “Argh, I’m sure I can name the band most associated with each of those seven guitarists but I can’t quite place Thurston Moore just at this moment while I’m sorting out the VK3601 threatening our right flank”, but generally it works out. If fate is kind and I get a couple of quick wins with the main tanks without punching the screen in instant death and/or idiot team frustration I’ll move on to one of my lower tier elite tanks to earn a few more credits and free XP, then wander off to something else for the rest of the evening.

Lack of the Premium XP bonus means upgrades will take a bit longer, but with each tank needing something like 80,000XP to move on to the Tier VIII ISU-152 or IS-3 it’s hardly a short-term goal, “a really, really long time” doesn’t seem that much longer than “a really long time” according to international standards of vague durational estimates. I’ll probably get there, in a month or two, but in the meantime it’s just about the individual battles rather than the advancement. The lack of a credit bonus isn’t too much of a problem either, for now; I can lose credits in a bad match if my tank gets destroyed and I fired a bunch of shells with little effect (heavy calibre ammo is pricey!), but for the most part I at least break even with the main tanks, and the SU-85 earns a handy profit. I might need to revisit the situation with a Tier VIII tank as they’re even more pricey to repair and rearm, and I’ll probably have to look at turning some gold into credits to actually afford a new tank in the first place; I funded a good chunk of the IS by selling off a few Tier V and VI tanks I was hardly playing, and also discovered that when you upgrade a component like an engine or gun the old item is shoved in your Depot. If you go to the Depot screen there’s an option to list shells or equipment not compatible with your current tanks, so I took everything to a nearby car park had a massive Tank Boot Sale, haggling with old ladies over the price (“No, madam, that is an 8.8 cm Kampfwagenkanone 36 L/56 and is most certainly worth considerably more than three credits.”)

Overall I’m happy for the time being to keep plinking away in a non-Premium fashion, though I’m certain will end up with more of my cash at some point if they continue their sensible pricing, either for upgrades in World of Tanks or when one of their new games comes along; maybe World of Warplanes but World of Battleships could really hit the spot. I mean a 3″ gun is all right, but a 15″ gun chucking the best part of a ton of shell over 20 miles, now we’re talking…

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Little things console us because little things afflict us

I’m not sure why I buy games on release day any more; the last two I got were Portal 2 (which I really must finish off sometime; what I’ve played so far is excellent, but for some reason it’s just never top of the list of “what I fancy playing right now”) and Deus Ex: Human Revolution (started it up, did a bit of the intro, blah blah blah dialogue dialogue, quit and went back to Fallout: New Vegas). It’s probably slightly unfortunate timing to be really into one FPS/RPG/OMG/WTF just as another comes out, but I’ve been hooked on Fallout: New Vegas for the past month or two.

You don’t even need to give it five years, picking up New Vegas in a Steam sale around nine months after launch allowed time for fairly extensive bug-squishing in a couple of big patches (though the game as a whole does just stop working and crash every now again on my system), and of course a hefty discount. I think the total for the game and three DLC packs was under £15; I feel a bit guilty as I’ve spent more than that on World of Tanks and, without wishing to denigrate the team behind World of Tanks, New Vegas is an entire game world with an overarching story with many paths, hundreds of locations to explore and massive amounts of recorded dialogue, whereas WoT is some tanks shooting some other tanks (gross simplification, and I’m still enjoying WoT and jumping in for a battle or two almost every day, but there does seem to be a bit of disparity there).

I’ve had my current PC for about two years now, without upgrades, and at one stage, in the dim distant past of the last millennium, if you had a two year old PC then you wouldn’t have much choice but to buy old games on budget releases, at least not if you wanted to nudge graphics sliders past the “monochrome stick men” option. That’s really not an issue now, my PC (pretty beefy when new, but not right at the top end) still happily runs everything I can throw at it, worst case scenario usually being running latest releases with “High” detail graphics instead of “Really, Really High”. I suspect much of that is to do with the majority of big non-MMOG PC releases being multi-platform; for Deus Ex apparently the PC only represented 13% of sales (57% 360, 31% PS3), and though that figure doesn’t include digital distribution a company would need a pretty major reason (like the prospect of monthly subscription fees) to go PC-only on a game if chucking AAA money at the production of it. With the 360 and PS3 getting on a bit, and no immediate prospect of replacements, developers have been pushing their limits for a while, and you can notice a few compromises in Fallout: New Vegas.

The New Vegas game engine handles the open spaces of the wasteland very well, and has no problems with interiors like casinos and vaults, but densely packed urban areas like the Vegas strip and surrounding town are partitioned into chunks by fences and gates with zone transitions between them. It’s not game breaking by any means, but it doesn’t help with immersion and is particularly annoying if you need to speak to someone as part of a quest. Fast Travel lets you (nigh-)instantly hop to any previously discovered location, but (unless I completely missed something) the only travel point for Vegas itself is the gate to the strip, so you fast travel there (…loading…) then go through the gate (…loading…) then through another gate to a different section of the strip (…loading…) then into a building (…loading…) to find the person you need to speak to, and of course half the time they have a couple of lines of dialogue then pack you halfway across the map again.

It’s not like New Vegas is a shoddy port by any means; the interface is bigger than it really needs to be on a PC screen, so it can be seen on a TV on the other side of a room, and it’s a minor inconvenience to have maps, quests and notes in different tabs of a screen rather than each having its own hotkey, but nothing to get worked up into an insane frothing Slashdot-comment/Digitiser’s Computer Boy type of rage over, even without mods the basic PC game is fine.

Speaking of mods, they’re a good reason to stick with PC gaming (along with using the only sensible control system, keyboard and mouse), and waiting a while after release before picking a game up gives plenty of time for modders to really get their teeth into it. I’m not using any mods for my first run-through of New Vegas, even though some could probably fix a few annoyances like the HUD scale, as you never quite know if you’ll wind up elbow deep in compatibility issues or problems with future patches, but once I’ve wrapped up the DLC I might well grab a bunch, or even leave it a while and come back to another play through to see what sort of a difference they make. I’m sure, as per Sturgeon’s revelation, there are plenty of half-finished well intentioned “quests” that only got as far as having an NPC approach the player and ask for help before running around in ever decreasing circles while performing the “use workbench” emote, free infinite-ammo nuke pistols of instant death and of course mod packs that perform the ever-vital game function of replacing every female NPC with a bikini-clad bint with improbable breasts. The user rating system and number of downloads should allow for decent filtering, though, and there do seem to be plenty of high quality mods for game functionality, graphics and content (once you’ve got past the “most downloaded” options that replace every female NPC…)

I’ve just started the most recent DLC pack, Old World Blues (currently my favourite of the lot, more on that after I finish it), which should keep me busy for a while longer yet, then I’ll need to get some new release to ignore while I actually get around to Deus Ex. Hmm, Skyrim Collector’s Edition for a mere £130, you say…

Friday 2 September 2011

Goonies never say die! They always bring a healer.

I’ll start by saying that I think the Inn of the Forsaken dungeon instance in Lords of the Rings Online is fantastic. I will be mentioning spoilers, so if you’re like me and take an age to get around to running dungeons (I ran it for the first time the other night), and you haven’t run through Inn of the Forsaken but intend to, then LOOK AWAY NOW!

I wonder how long it will be before they all realise that there’s no way to know when to look back…

There are numerous design details that I appreciate in Turbine’s scalable three-man dungeon instance, but I think chief among them is the fact that the experience feels like an authentic dungeon crawl. Inspiration has clearly been taken from the Indiana Jones films, and the references to The Goonies are about as subtle as Lotney “Sloth” Fratelli bellowing “Hey you guys!” from the top of a mast, all of which instils a sense of adventure about the place, rather than the slightly sterile and clinical nature of many dungeon instances I’ve encountered. But more than that, the experience is tight; on the KiaSA standardised Toned Buttock Scale of Tightness we’re looking at a J.Lo or Justin Timberlake, at the very least.

The tightness in the design works –like the dungeon itself– on several levels. First and foremost it makes for a more engaging experience, where every twist and turn involves something to do outside of the ritual wait for mana to regenerate, before pulling the next Standard Trash Pack A from Generic Trash Pack Containment Area B. It also translates into a claustrophobic feeling due to the relentless nature of events, with every seeming step involving a challenge to face, be it traps, puzzles, riddles, or the inevitable but not overused fight sequences. Most importantly, I think this compressed nature of the game design feeds into the narrow nature of the map design, making it swell, such that the tunnel walls seem to close in even further on the players.

Clearly the developers of Inn of the Forsaken have studied the work of the DDO dungeon designers, but they have also improved on the systems they found there. Inn of the Forsaken opts for blatant and lethal traps, rather than DDO’s (in the main) hidden but merely irritating ones. It’s only fair to have the players able to see the danger coming when it has the potential to kill their character, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all: the players’ sense of anticipation and dread is heightened by being able to see how far they have to travel down a confined corridor lined with enormous human-threshing machines, each player picturing in their mind the flaming eye of Sauron gazing down and asking ‘Do You Blend?’ The fact that these traps can be turned upon the enemy mobs through careful play is surprising, an encouraging example of honouring the idea of ‘fair play’ between developer and player. Riddles also feature in DDO dungeons, but Inn of the Forsaken takes the idea and again tries to improve upon it by including some eighty or so riddles to solve, where DDO generally only had the one per quest. Obviously there’s still a wiki which spoils it all, useful for those trying to be ‘optimal’ in their dungeon grinding, but for normal players there’s quite a good chance of getting one or two new riddles per run, even over the course of quite a few attempts. And the riddles aren’t bad either, perhaps verging ever so slightly towards the ‘what is this I don’t even’ end of the obscuration scale, but understandably so, given that they had to come up with eighty or more ways to cryptically describe a handful of the game’s emotes.

The class mechanic is one of those areas that will divide opinion, you’ll either love it or hate, primarily based on whether your party of three has the right combination of classes. The various game-play elements within the dungeon can be manipulated only by certain classes in the following fashion:

  • Lore-master, Minstrel, Rune-keeper — a “lore” class — uses incantation stones and strange runes
  • Captain, Hunter, Burglar — an “aware” class — triggers trap mechanisms
  • Guardian, Warden, Champion — a “brawn” class — smashes through broken walls

Not having a balanced party consisting of one member from each group makes the dungeon potentially more difficult (certainly if you have nobody who can disable the traps), and will not allow you to complete the dungeon’s ‘perfect run’ challenge mode, but otherwise does not interfere with the experience. I like the design, although I know many see it as ‘enforcing the trinity’, which is certainly a fair point to argue. The groups are based around reasonably believable demarcations, although I was surprised to find out that my Captain was a designated trap monkey, presumably standing with one hand on her hip, pointing accusingly at the trap and commanding it at the top of her voice to ‘stop that nonsense right now’. I mean it’s either that or Captains were the last to be picked in the dungeon run group formation in the playground at lunchtime, and so they were shoved into the group with the least members, the trappists. But even the monks didn’t want them, so they ended up with the Hunters and Burglars by default. I imagine the design was meant as a soft enforcement of the Holy Trinity, but it doesn’t really work, and simply results in frustrating any group that doesn’t have the right class balance. This is a path that is sad to see LotRO take, as it was once a game I admired for allowing madcap groups with, say, Hunters or Burglars tanking and Guardians doing DPS, but now seems to be going a bit grey and clerical, slowly filing classes away in well worn slots, each to its ‘proper’ role.

If it weren’t for the flavour of the groupings, I would suggest that a slightly more flexible mechanic would have been to allow each player to pick a role at the start of the instance, thus enabling completion by any group make-up, and indeed giving players who don’t have numerous alts the chance to try each of the different roles; in fact, in this case I’m really not sure that the benefit of immersion gained by restricting classes to believable roles outweighs the flexibility of letting players get on and try things out. And if the developers were to flinch sharply at the thought of giving the players such freedoms, well, perhaps they could content themselves with the logistical nightmare and bitter recriminations resulting from a pickup group trying to come to some sort of resolution over who will be doing precisely what.

Lastly there’s the big reveal. This is the major spoiler, so probably best to skip on in your RSS reader now if you don’t want to know. Really, I’m almost done here, and I can see that following this there’s a fascinating post in your reader concerning marmoset farming in Fitton. Off you go.

Darth Vader is Luke’s dad!

Sorry, wrong reveal. So by some SECRET means you are dumped down a splendid rapids ride and into… World of Warcraft’s Deadmines! Okay, fine, I imagine the WoW fans are raging that it’s nowhere near as impressive as the Deadmines, but nevertheless it is a large cavern, filled with water, in which a boat is improbably placed. It’s fun. It’s ta da! It just needed Cyndi Lauper’s The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough to start when you hit the water and it would have been perfect. The final boss fight is here, and it’s one of those fights over which I’m conflicted. It’s a sort of Mario 64/Sonic Adventure mechanic, where an invulnerable dundering giant wallows his way after the tank for a while before performing a ‘special’ move which causes him to become stuck, at which point performing the correct action makes him vulnerable, opens a tiny window of opportunity to whittle away at his health, after which he becomes invulnerable again and Yakety Sax kicks out of the speakers once more. Arcade-like boss mechanics are fine, I suppose, but I’m just not sure if it works in the context of current MMO combat. In this case, the healer can easily stand out of range of the boss, and with even modest healing on the tank there’s no real danger of the boss killing them. Essentially the fight is reduced to a sort of combat orientated jamming, where the tank and boss dance around for a while, then the DPS runs in and takes a turn, before quickly swapping out again. Or you might look at it as a sort of very basic ‘Simon says you may now stab the boss’ game for the DPS, while the tank and healer merely run through the motions.

It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t really live up to the rest of the instance either, which possibly makes it more disappointing than it otherwise would be. It does seem to have the usual anti-melee design, however, since the boss hits anyone in melee range with irritating stuns on a frequent basis, usually right in the midst of the tiny window of opportunity to do any damage, where I imagine a ranged class could just stand well outside the Circle of Yakety Sax and not be troubled by it at all; I wouldn’t know, I still like to play melee characters, but you’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now.

Then again, if I were one for learning from lessons of punishment, I’m not entirely sure I’d be playing MMOs in the first place.

Thursday 1 September 2011

Coming soon to KiaSA-TV!

A story in the Wall Street Journal about sports bars showing Starcraft II games sparked major interest from television companies and bidding wars over the rights to other hot e-sport properties. Unfortunately I was off on holiday so KiaSA-TV missed out on some of the bigger opportunities like the grand World of Warcraft arena tournament, but nevertheless we’ve snapped up some fantastic events for the launch of our new MMOG-based television station. Here’s what you can be looking forward to this Autumn!

Tuesday Afternoon Arena Fights (1100-1300 rating bracket, EU Emberstorm Battlegroup): Although not quite so high profile as the grand prize tournaments there’s no end of thrills and spills in the hot ticket that everyone’s calling TAAFOTORBEEB. Can Rougekilla and Tyriondrizt keep up their incredible two win streak, or will Rougekilla’s connection time out when his sister tries to stream yesterday’s EastEnders? Will Stayplegun return from being /AFK before his team’s fight actually starts? Just how long can a conversation be continued using only the words “lol” and “noob”? Find out, in TAAFOTORBEEB!

Middle Earth Epic Book Transcontinental Rallying: The toughest endurance event in MMOGing, watch six rival members of the same party race between checkpoints (or “NPCs” as they’re sometimes called) being sent all the way across the world, and then all the way back again!

The Guild Wars High Jump Championship: Can anyone break last year’s record of 0.0cm?

The Champions Online 100m Dash: Three femtoseconds of racing followed by three weeks of legal challenges over whether radioactive spider bites count as performance enhancing drugs. Controversy still surrounds Doctor Timewarp’s claim of having won next year’s event last February.

One Tank And His PUG: Tanks from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland attempt to corral a skittish group around a dungeon by whistling a lot and shouting “kum bye”.

Fish’O’Mania: An all-action fishing competition where… hang on, no, that’s a real one.