Monday 30 April 2012

You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will

The transient, here-today and, if I may say so, gone-tomorrow nature of betas blunts the achiever streak that’s a major motivator for me in MMOGs, so I didn’t do an awful lot of adventuring in the Guild Wars 2 beta. The vague impression I formed was pleasurably chaotic, partly by design, partly a result of waves of brand new players squinting in the gleam of new-game shine and shouting “HOW I MINE FOR FISH?” Stumbling out of the introductory quests into the starter zones you talk to a scout, who basically opens your map up, points out a bunch o’ stuff going on, then slaps you on the back and says “off you go!” Following the directions of punctuation-emblazoned questgivers in a more structured MMOG can be like an assault course, where an instructor at each stage orders you to climb the scramble net, kill ten boars, step through tires or whatever, refusing to allow you to progress to the next obstacle until you’ve done it properly. In comparison Guild Wars 2 is an adventure playground where there’s a game of tag going on around the monkey bars, an impromptu round of “capture the fort” centred around a climbing frame, then a heavily distorted version of Greensleeves starts playing as an ice-cream van turns up and everyone runs after it for a 99 (except the van’s driven by an otter, who’s taking it to a carpet factory, and… hang on, this analogy has crashed, ABORT! ABORT!)

I did spend quite a lot of time on the character creation screens, though, wallowing in the luxury of ample time to adjust nose width and brow depth without the nagging feeling you get once a game goes live that you’re in a race with an Evil Society of Name Thieves to get to the “Enter character name:” box, that every second spent considering the precise tint of hair colour is a step closer to the accursed defeat of “Sorry, that name is not available”. Or maybe that’s just me. Character customisation is reasonable; not right up there with APB, but a decent array of options, and ArenaNet at least remembered to do some work on the rest of the game. The Charr seem quite interesting, they get good horn sliders and some fun fur patterns, but I’ve never really got into anthropomorphic characters so spent less time with them than the Humans or Norns.

Syl posted about the generically attrative faces of GW2, and Humans suffer particularly badly. A lot of the faces, especially female faces, go past photoshopped-model-in-glossy-magazine into slightly freakier animated-porcelain-doll territory, they just didn’t look right to me. GW2 is also slightly unusual in that, at least for this beta build, facial details such as scars, wrinkles and make-up are part of a head-package, not elements that can be added or tailored individually; I’m not sure if that’s something they’re planning on changing, but I found it quite tricky to get a Human head I was really happy with. Norns were much better, plenty of character in most of the male faces and a few female options from outside a glossy teen drama, plus the ability to add tattoos to mix things up a bit. Granted the high level female outfits shown during creation were heavy on the cleavage and midriff, and if there was any equivalence then male Norn casters would excel at smuggling budgies, but I think that’s been beaten that to death recently. With a high-heeled boot.

In summary, then: Guild Wars 2 has a character creator, and after that you run around a bit. Join me here at KiaSA after the next beta weekend when I hope to be able to shed some light on the rumours that you can “press buttons” to “use skills”.

Sunday 29 April 2012

A wedding? I love weddings! Drinks all around!

As usual I’ve spent a large part of my time noodling around in the character creator during Guild Wars 2’s current beta event. I think I’ve got my characters planned, a Norn Guardian and a Charr Warrior, with the Guardian being my main. Of course m’colleague will snort merrily at this and tell you that I will, therefore, be playing a Sylvari Thief come release. I am certainly well enough aware of my altitus to not be able to rule out such a situation occurring.

The one saving grace for my Norn is that I’ve managed to create my own denizen of Rivain (because nothing helps immersion in a fantasy RPG like a genre mash-up), which will be hard to give up. This is helped somewhat by the default town clothes for the female Norn complementing the desired guise so terribly well. I present the following exhibits as evidence:

Brawling, booze and infeasible cleavage – welcome to Norn Town.

I’ve played through some of the early levels to get a handle on the various classes, and I’ve raised a few bug reports, so I have to say that I feel my time in the beta was both worthwhile and enjoyable. The game clearly has some work to be done, but then for all we know we may not see a release for six months or more. I think the important thing to consider is whether the lessons of beta have been learnt, the outcome of which will become clear when the next beta takes place. Regardless, I’ve seen enough –even in its current condition– to know that I will be playing the game for some time, and that it will probably become my new World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online – games which have both served me well for five or more years of play, on and off.

I can’t really report much on the game content as such, because I didn’t advance terribly far with any one character; I have no intention of playing through it all again come release – O, that way burnout lies. I’d rather save the content for when I can savour it, knowing that any progression my character makes will actually count for something.

The beta simply hasn’t changed my opinion for better or worse – I think that Guild Wars 2 will be a great game, that I will get a lot out of it, and that ArenaNet will have a very solid foundation on which to continue building their Guild Wars franchise. Is it going to change the world? No. Is it going to be a very strong player in the MMO market and influence those theme park MMOs which follow it? Yes, I do believe so.

I still regret not having involved myself in the original Guild Wars culture, and I don’t intend to make the same mistake a second time. The thing with Guild Wars is that it’s more than just a game – it is a community. Much like I find the game-play of EVE not to be for me, I can still admire the community. And I do. The devoted passion of EVE’s players is something which I also recognise in the Guild Wars community, as well as in the team at ArenaNet, and I feel that it is this passion which is intrinsic to the best of MMO experiences.

MMOs are more than just the games we play, they are the communities which form around the games, and this is what should make them different and special. Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost this depth of community. Perhaps the player-base has been spread too thinly with the wealth of MMO choice in recent years; perhaps developers have failed to instill, or even enable, an appropriate sense of community within their player-base; perhaps players have been spoilt by the bigger MMOs, and a sense of selfish entitlement precludes a solid community forming. Certainly the latter point is my main concern for Guild Wars 2 at the moment, the sense of entitlement and complaint over the issues found in the current beta have been… excessive, to my mind. Wanting to have your issues resolved is entirely understandable, but the foot-stamping, nappy-flinging, red-faced wailing that occurs amongst a certain set of players every time they don’t get an absolutely immaculate MMO experience, or find themselves hindered by an issue for any longer than a nanosecond, casts the MMO community as a whole in a terribly bad light. It is healthy to lust for perfection, but only deranged fanaticism could demand it unconditionally.

So, Guild Wars 2: so far as I can tell it’s a great game, one which will not shake the foundations of the genre, but will almost certainly strengthen them; we’ll just have to wait and see if it develops the solid community it deserves to go along with that.

Saturday 28 April 2012

KiaSA Top Tips: Guild Wars 2

A list of (hopefully) useful tips and tricks we’ve found while rummaging around in the Guild Wars 2 beta. We’ve only been playing for a short while so far, and not played before, so it’ll be an equally short list of basic tips to start off with, but we’ll add to it as and when we stumble upon tidbits that may be QI to others. Do feel free to add your own tips in the comments and we’ll pop them in the main list with an appropriate attribution.

  • Whether you like it or not – remember it’s still a Beta (you can sing this to the tune of Remember You’re A Womble if it’ll help you at moments of high stress.)

  • Those of you with ATI/AMD graphics cards may find that upon entering the game world you’re faced with a UI and an otherwise black screen. Press Esc, go into the graphics options and disable Depth of Field, which fixed this in my instance. Apparently the game is optimised for NVidia cards only at the moment, so expect slightly more frinky graphical glitches during the beta if you’re part of The Way It’s Also Possible To Be Played set.

  • The music on the login page is indeed on the loud side – although if any game music were going to have to be loud, I’d take the Guild Wars soundtrack any day. There is a cog icon in the top left corner of the login screen which will open the options page and allow you to reduce the audio levels.

  • When you’re on the character selection screen look to the top left and you’ll see a Contacts icon next to the Options icon. You can check which of your friends is online before you login, and then choose which of your characters to play based on who’s on what and where.

  • Helmets and shoulder-pads can be turned off in the Hero sheet (Press H) by right-clicking the appropriate piece of armour. Useful if those Mesmer masks freak you out as much as they do me.

  • Speaking of outfits: the small icons at the top centre of the Hero sheet above your character model allow you to select your town outfit which, for my norn warrior at least, was a rather fetching pirate get-up that matched her bandana rather nicely.

  • Autoloot can be enabled through the options menu (Press Esc) General Options -> Interactions. It does, however, still show you the icons of what you looted in the bottom right of the screen, and you can mouse-over each one for a description of the item. After a short period of time these icons fade out. Don’t panic! Autoloot does not steal the armour from other PCs: they all look that naked with their armour on.

  • Speak to any scouts you see (they have a spyglass icon above their head), they will often give you information about the area, and point out new events and locations on your map. They are not recruiting for X-Factor or Next Top Model, though.

  • You may need to bind Dodge to a key – it was unbound for me, although I may have used the default key for something else. Either way, make sure it’s bound, and use it whenever you can, it will help to keep you alive as much as ‘6’ (the heal key) will.

  • If you’re taking a screenshot, perhaps for sending to ArenaNet, then consider binding a key to Screenshots: High-Res in the options (Press Esc) Control Options.

  • You can merge your inventory into one large bag by unchecking the Bags checkbox at the top on the inventory screen (Press I). You can keep your inventory nice and neat by pressing the Compact icon next to the Bags checkbox. This will move all items up to the top of the inventory, filling in any empty spaces you may have from selling or equipping items – it’s a nice way to keep all the new loot going in at the bottom of your inventory so it’s easy to find.

  • Don’t just chain-run quests, take time to smell the roses. Unless you’re doing the Smell the Roses quest, obviously.


Thursday 26 April 2012

Don't be a procrastinator, have your apocalypse now

I was a big fan of STALKER: Call of Pripyat, third of the STALKER series, which knocked off the roughest edges of the earlier games without losing the charm, or perhaps more accurately lack-of-charm, of scrabbling around trying to survive in a grim post-Soviet wasteland. Development of a sequel was troubled with announcement of cancellation, un-cancellation, re-cancellation and un-re-cancellation, but as of a couple of days ago it seems to have finally succumbed to radiation poisoning and/or mutant attack.

In the light of the Syndicate and XCom reboots I would’ve suggested this is likely to mean news of STALKER being reborn as an FPS in four or five years, but of course it was an FPS to start with. Maybe instead they’ll try a tower defence game where you place Stalkers around the perimeter of a nuclear power station gunning down endless waves of mutants…

All is not lost, though, for the STALKER 2 team announced that they’re now working on Survarium, an MMOFPS that looks very much like a spiritual successor. PC Gamer expresses concern about how well STALKER’s values mesh with a massive playerbase, commenters on RPS have slightly more forthright opinions; for the most part “free-to-play MMO” goes down about as well there as “close links between cabinet ministers and News International” at the Levenson inquiry (ooh, little bit of politics).

It’s not hard to see why people would be trepidatious about a World of STALKERing, I mused about the possibilities and problems of an online version Fallout: New Vegas a while back, much of which could apply to STALKER, but it’ll be interesting to see what develops, and as per the post title I’d like to suggest an ideal theme tune.

Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.

Recent flooding of the river of my life has left me frantically paddling against a tide which takes me ever away from my small quiet pond of gaming solitude, which itself has begun to stagnate. I’ve had little time for gaming or blogging in recent weeks, and I have to confess, I don’t find myself missing either terribly much. Standing at the altar in the Church of MMO, I have found my lack of faith disturbing. It may seem to the contrary –based upon much of my writing here– but I did once believe in the MMO genre. I’ve stood for a long time on the beach of bloggers, watching the tide of new blogs crash and churn with each new wave, and although no two waves are ever the same, the outcome of their enthusiasm and energy often is: rolling and thundering at first, but becoming ever less sonorous as the passion wanes, indifference prevails, placidity thins, before slowly retreating down the beach. Every grain of sand deposited in this way a topic. Every grain of sand the same. The same topics, delivered time and time again onto the beach of blogging, which rests at the foot of the cliffs of the MMO genre. The cliffs remain unchanged, indifferent to the weight of sandy evidence presented at their base, where measuring the progress of the genre is to measure the progress of the sea against a coastline – a measurement of antediluvian span.

I hold an answer in my hand. The Grail to some, but to my faithless mind it appears as no more than an empty cup. I should be excited by Guild Wars 2, but I find myself more melancholy, for me this feels less the beginning of an adventure, more a last hurrah – a final farewell to the genre. I do not expect things to change with Guild Wars 2’s release; the tide will roll in once more with a new wave of enthusiasm, soon to be dashed against the unchanging countenance of the genre’s cliff face, leaving behind another sandy layer of blogging topics, every grain the same as those that came before. At which point I imagine I will take to the seas on a small raft built of apathy or antipathy and look for adventure in other lands, for, I will be forced to concede, I can no longer find it on this barren shore.

There is a beta for Guild Wars 2 this weekend, and I find myself with time to participate. One last hurrah, one last hope for redemption. And then, perhaps, `I will embark and I will lose myself, And in the great sea wash away my sin.’

Monday 23 April 2012

Life imitates art far more than art imitates life

I think Bioware are taking the Rakghoul Plague event in Star Wars: The Old Republic a bit too far. Shortly after contracting the in-game plague that causes your character to become feverish and start vomiting, I managed to to contract some sort of out-of-game unpleasantness causing a fever and vomiting. Coincidence?

Well, probably. But I’m avoiding Tatooine for a while, just in case.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes

Along with the big 1.2 game update Bioware have reactivated accounts for former Star Wars: The Old Republic subscribers for a week, so I’ve popped a nose back in for a bit of a look around. I had been slightly miffed at missing out on a free month of subscription; active users with a level 50 character on April 12th got an extra 30 days of game time, and I would’ve strongly considered resubscribing to qualify but only found out on April 13th. Since a bit of unhappiness, not least from people without a level 50 character, they’ve tweaked the offer slightly to also cover people who’ve reached Legacy Level 6 across multiple characters, and you qualify if you have an active sub on April 22nd, so I’ll probably dig out the credit card after the free week for a bit more dabbling.

Picking up a couple of Melmoth’s links from yesterday, Richard Bartle talked about the lack of story-focused content in 1.2. The Legacy system does give an incentive for playing different characters, and a levelling boost for alts makes some sense in allowing you to focus on the class missions and perhaps skip some of the content seen on previous characters. Overall, though, individual character-specific stories don’t seem to have changed or advanced since launch.

I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing; I posted about the disconnect between individual stories and the wider game world, something thrown into sharper relief when jumping from SWTOR to Mass Effect 3, and 1.2 turned out to have a secret payload…

While idly browsing the Galactic Trade Space-Auction-House Network, safely tucked away in the heart of the Imperial Fleet, I dropped dead. “That’s a bit strange” I thought, displaying the incredible perception of the Empire’s most astute Agent. I commenced an investigation at once, drawing upon my full reserves of cunning, interrogation techniques and psychological mastery to ask “WTF??/?” in /guild chat. It turned out that I’d contracted the rakghoul plague (as I would’ve noticed, if I wasn’t so fixated on the trade network screens), some NPC chatter and in-game news bulletins started to shed a bit of light on the situation. Spinks and Shintar have fine posts about the event, as Spinks says it’s nicely done, all very organic within the world: “None of this, incidentally, is delivered via quest text from an NPC with a quest symbol above its head.”

I’m not sure if it’s a pointer towards a shift in focus from character-oriented stories to a more world-based narrative, or just the way the updates have fallen, but it’s a pretty interesting event so far. Now if you’ll excuse me I just need to go and rub up against some other infected Imperials at the Giant Rakghoul Plague Party in the cantina…

Monday 16 April 2012

Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.

You have to wonder if the team behind Star Wars: The Old Republic is getting a bit desperate.

First the controversial-to-some promotion of gifting players with level capped characters free subscription time.

Now there’s a live event which, to this outsider, seems suspiciously similar to a well-known bugged event in World of Warcraft. I mean, I know that BioWare seem to be throwing story to the wind and pasting in more end game raid content, but do they really need to copy World of Warcraft’s bugs too? Or maybe they consider this one to be a feature.

In all fairness (and slightly more seriousness), the event seems to be quite the hit with many SWTOR players, so I guess it’s not entirely a bad move to replicate some of the more notorious events from the Disney of theme park MMOs, while placing them in a more controlled environment.

What I want to know is, are they trying to respond to the Mists of Pandaria beta by appealing to World of Warcraft players, or the ‘pre-players’ of Guild Wars 2’s rather successful recent pre-post-pre-order-purchase activation, or both?

Certainly, to my mind, they seem to be desperately scrambling to respond to something, I’m just curious as to what that something is, and why they feel the need to respond so soon in their game’s life.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

In a battle all you need to make you fight is a little hot blood and the knowledge that it's more dangerous to lose than to win.

“I think we might be heading into an ambush.”

“I see… but how? Does your character have points in the Ambush Detection skill? Does your class get a spell to detect hidden creatures? Is it that the deity of your chosen religion bestowed upon you a boon to reveal with holy sight those who mean you harm? Do you possess an ancient artefact from the tomb of a forgotten king, which glows with a spectral light when enemies are near?”

“Nah, I can just see the NPC’s name tag sticking out from the edge of that bush over there.”

Sometimes I think that the only real battle fought in an MMO is between the developer and the metagame.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Passion is a positive obsession.

It was while casting about for an MMO to play that a friend suggested I could perhaps look again at Guild Wars, seeing as I intended playing the game’s successor upon its arrival later this year. I’ve tried to get my hook into Guild Wars several times before – the original Prophecies campaign, then Factions, before trying once again with Nightfall sometime after its release, several years ago.

I launched Guild Wars late on Friday evening last week, perched my virtual self on the bank of the computer’s memory, then cast my line lightly and without conviction into the digital depths of the game’s design. What leviathan of immersion rose from the deep I cannot tell, but with gaping maw it took both hook and line and pulled me down, and for the greatest time there was nothing but the beat and surge of it – the primal urgency of that rhythmic stroke sending the creature into the impossible darkness of the infinite. Trapped in the tow, I tumbled along in its wake.

On Monday I managed somehow to disentangle myself from the line, and with desperate resolve kicked myself upwards. I broke the surface of that digital dream, my mind gasping at the marvel of it. My character was at the level cap, and as I pulled myself to the virtual shore I considered my adventure close to complete. I looked back on the distance I had come –the opposite shore of the lake into which that beast of obsession had dragged me was visible on the horizon– and couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that the journey was almost at an end.

It was then that the aforementioned friend arrived in the guise of a guide. With the kindly chuckle of a parent bemused at the innocent naivety of a child, the guide parted a section of thick vegetation surrounding the lake and bid me look beyond. It revealed to me the extent of my journey thus far, and it was clear: I had but stepped upon the path, and no further. The expansive river of progression stretched out before me, its distributaries of activity branching off in many directions; the sea of possibility followed, wide open and dynamic, stretching all the way to the horizon.

I swept my arm out at the expanse of content in front of us. “I had no idea the game was so huge. I mean, good people have tried to explain… but this… this is unfathomable.”

The guide smiled again, “No, this is just Nightfall. There are two other campaigns to explore after this.”

And so tonight I cast my line once more, and hope that the monstrous exigency of play will rise once again, take hook, and pull me onwards and downwards into the fantastical fathoms of Tyria.

Friday 6 April 2012

KiaSA Top Tips.

Parents, add a level of MMO adventuring fun to your child’s Easter celebrations by offering them a quest to collect twenty small chocolate eggs which are hidden around the garden. When they come back to you with the basket of eggs, ask them now to go and find five slightly larger eggs which you’ve just hidden in the poison ivy in the same part of the garden. Upon their return, ask them finally to find the one large egg hidden somewhere near the top of the holly tree in the garden, next to the poison ivy.

When they eventually bring you that final trophy, they should be exhausted, battered, emotionally drained but somewhat triumphant. Offer them your thanks. Then throw all the eggs away and give them five pence and a garlic press as a reward.

Yours derivatively,

Watt Arottendev

Things are distinct not in their essence but in their appearance.

April 10th is just around the corner, and I’ve been dabbling in Guild Wars: The Original Series.

During my initial foray I was very pleased to see that ArenaNet can indeed make splendid-looking female armour without it needing to include a mini-skirt, bra, nipple tassels, thong, fishnets, Lycra leotard or nothing but a small strategically placed fig leaf.

Of course, if you want it, you have to buy it from the Guild Wars store.

I’ve also found a new lease of life in Skyrim, with various mods which improve character appearance, as well as the addition of cloaks and other cosmetic niceties, providing a new reason to go adventuring in Tamriel’s wintry province.

All of which is free, and makes me feel somewhat guilty, because I’m happy to give a little extra to ArenaNet seeing as their game and its series of expansions seems worth more than the box prices alone. With all the good will shown towards recent gaming Kickstarter projects, I wonder if players would also pay for mods to their favourite games, especially since services such as Steamworks support it.

Regardless, I’m cosmetically content, and perfectly happy pottering around in DDO, Guild Wars and Skyrim for the time being. In addition, I’m somewhat more hopeful now of being able to create a sensibly attired character in Guild Wars 2 – always nice for someone who enjoys playing female characters for more than the beholding of butt, and who doesn’t want to get hit around the head with a frying pan when their wife witnesses the buxom burlesque dancer in a chainmail thong with which the game has lumbered them.

Thursday 5 April 2012

Hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil

Poor old EA, apparently they’re the worst company in America. Worse than The South California Crack Cocaine and Heroin Company, worse even than pre-tournament favourites Puppy Kicking Inc. (motto: “We Kick Puppies!”), EA beat the Bank of America in the final vote.

Back in 2004, when Erin Hoffman’s EA Spouse post drew attention to the working practices of the industry, and when EA had a reputation of swallowing up and crushing smaller studios, it would’ve made more sense, but since John Riccitiello became CEO in 2007 they’ve improved considerably. Course they’re not perfect, they’re a big company ultimately focused on profits, but *worst* company? How could they possibly earn such a title in a series of internet polls where a comparatively small number of motivated tech-oriented people across the world could easily swamp the… oh… Right. I suppose, in hindsght, those hit hardest by the financial crisis that the Bank of America played no small part in might have been a bit more worried about finding a job, food and somewhere to live than voting in an internet poll. The slackers.

Maybe there’s a little clue to the most monstrous evil of EA in the post on The Consumerist awarding the Golden Poo:

“Traditionally, the Poo has been delivered on its little red pillow. But this year, we’ll give EA three different color options for its pillow, though in the end it’s still the same old Poo.”

Even without the explicit reference it wouldn’t be a massive leap to connect a campaign expressing displeasure with EA to the Retake Mass Effect efforts. At least they’re gamers, though, motivated by their passion for games they love, if perhaps a touch overzealous in places, unlike some other online campaigners. It seems EA have been targeted over the inclusion of same sex relationships in their games, with Star Wars: The Old Republic being particularly singled out by the Florida Family Association. There’s a link in the piece, I’m not going to replicate it here (oxygen of publicity and all that), but you couldn’t ask for a better example of Poe’s Law. It’s headlined by an image of RuPaul’s head superimposed on Darth Vader’s body and the question: “Will the makers of Star Wars video games create Darth VaPaula, a (mock) transgender version of Darth Vader – RuPaul, for kids to choose as their action character?” I’m pretty sure the answer is “no, you deranged fuckwits”, EA’s Jeff Brown puts it a bit more diplomatically: “In short, we do put options for same-sex relationships in our games; we don’t tolerate hate speech on our forums”.

A cynic might suggest it’s PR driven, with EA pointing to the support of the Human Rights Campaign over their stance in a response on Kotaku to the “worst company” award. With the stock price of Starbucks climbing since a “Dump Starbucks” campaign was launched to protest the coffee company’s support of same sex marriage, possibly in part because of a backlash against the original campaign, maybe it’s just a sensible business decision, but regardless of EA’s motives it doesn’t sound like the behaviour of The Worst Company In America to me.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

The broken road wound its serpentine coil between tall fir trees, wrapped itself around hills lush with vegetation, before stopping to drink at the bank of a wide fast-running river, deep in the forest valley below. The warrior stood at the top of the road’s descent, an index finger curled against her lips formed the question mark that punctuated her thoughts – ‘Where do I go?’

A glance behind at the path already travelled, hand sweeping up through thick red locks to scratch thoughtfully, only to find a scabbed scalp amid the matted mass of hair, tongue instinctively feeling for the ragged edges of a split lip in sympathetic accord – she winced slightly at that, spat the metallic taste onto the cobbled road.

No insight came to her. She wasn’t a ranger, couldn’t read any of the natural signs posted in the wild; her forests were found among the fields of battle, where she would fell thorny trees of metal along the banks of rivers that ran red. She shrugged the ache from her shield arm, subconsciously felt for the pommel of the sword which hung at her side, then dragged heavy hide boots one after the other down the hill.

The road dropped sharply around the next bend and plunged into the depths of the forest, trees loomed over the warrior as she trudged on into that verdant primeval hall, the testudo of the high canopy blocking much of the sun’s assault, casting the forest in a fay half-light. The place was utterly alien to her – she may as well have been walking on the surface of Vaklavia, green goddess, hanging always low in the sky to the west; although she could not see the moon now. She was used to the nature of the city, rigid and formal, where the chaos was in the people who lived there; she could deal with people. But the forest… the forest was chaos, it both oppressed and liberated, was ancient and young, raucous and silent. Her head began to spin – the remnants of a concussion? No, she didn’t believe that, she could feel the primal fear waking deep within her chest, could feel its brumal maw closing around her heart.

She knelt then, pressed her fevered brow to the cool earth at the side of the road, tried to focus her thoughts on home – on Marisha, golden hair and marble skin, waiting for her there. She prayed, not to the Gods, for she did not hold court with them; instead she prayed to the forest. She acknowledged the ancient power there, unknowable, yet in evidence all around her, asked it –pleaded with it– for a sign. She opened her eyes. Her gaze fell across the road onto something which was not of the forest. But she knew it. Steps hewn vandalously into the bank, bones littering a path lined by trees which had been hacked and scorched and broken, weeping sap from their fresh wounds. The whole place was a wound. She did not know the forest, but the forest knew her.

Head clear, heart singing, she drew her sword and smiled, and the forest showed her where to go.

I’ve been playing with mods in Skyrim recently. Despite an inordinate number of them being aimed at turning Skyrim into a cross between Conan and Barbarella (you just wouldn’t believe the painstaking effort that can go into modelling a set of three foot long nipples…), I’ve managed to filter things with the help of sites such as the deeply inspirational Dead End Thrills.

Having ‘splungthrust my mods’ as I believe the cool kids say, I tested them out by creating a new character and running through the early content of the game. I have to say, the improvements that these free community-generated tweaks and tune-ups provide are, frankly, astonishing. There’s a lot of untapped talent out there, and games like Skyrim and World of Warcraft demonstrate the level of ingenuity and creativity which can be harnessed when a game is opened up to the community of modders. Admittedly it also reveals the obsession with breasts and butts, but sometimes you have to take the rough with the smooth. Or the unfeasibly large breasts with the beautiful realistic water textures.

What surprised me most, however, was that just a short way out of the tutorial, while wandering down a familiar forest road towards Riverwood, I stumbled upon a path I hadn’t discovered before, and, upon further investigation, a den of bandits. One hundred and fifty-odd hours of play, and I’m still discovering things in this world. Right next to the starter area, even. The path was clearly there to be found, but it wasn’t signposted either by quest or gaudy railroading, I just had to open my eyes to the world, and open my mind to the possibilities of freedom presented by the game of ‘Where do I go?’.

What else have I yet to discover? I may just have to go and find out.

Monday 2 April 2012

Thought for the day.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me Kickstarter is beginning to feel like a number of one night stands. Drunk with beneficent gamer’s glee, I’ve sowed my arbitrary funding oats across a number of projects now, but at mostly $10-$15 a shot I’m starting to lose track of what went where and with whom.

More to the point: in nine or so months I’ll start getting these strangers turning up, informing me that at some point in the past we were intimately involved, that I ‘gave them a donation’, before handing over a little bundle and telling me that ‘here, this is yours’.

I think the idea is pretty much Analogy Complete – it even has that layer of built-in guilt, considering that they did all the hard work over the subsequent months, and I just happened to be there at the start, throwing my sponsorship seed around with wild abandon.

Hmmm, perhaps I should instead start selecting the ‘No reward, I just want to donate’ option, the Kickstarter equivalent of donating to a sperm bank.