Saturday 30 June 2012

Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.

Undead doesn’t count, I’ve checked.

Just a quick update to present my character, who has been working tirelessly to keep secrets through the naturally occurring persuasive properties of the shotgun and dual pistols.

And yes, the astute amongst you many have noticed the subtle badge on her jacket. I am indeed playing a Templar, and just in case any one was wondering why, I suppose I’d better post this again:
Templar Forever
I have to say it’s been an incredibly smooth launch by Funcom so far. There have been a few understandable hiccoughs due to the initial server load, with ‘pre-order’ items taking a while to turn up in one’s inventory, and the servers throwing the occasional thread-fart, but otherwise it’s been a surprisingly painless initial sortie. Such has been my experience, at least.
Now, back to keeping those secrets. So many secrets; so many keepers who aren’t me. I’m going to need a lot of ammunition.

Thursday 28 June 2012

All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.

That’s right folks, the Date of Dates is upon us: we now know for certain that September 28th is the date when huge sections of the MMO community will be whining that they’re bored and are desperate to know the release dates for Firefall and Wildstar!

Go stick your head in a pig

From the opening bass slap of a cracking version of Pink Floyd’s One of These Days, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show Live! was a fantastic evening. At its heart is a good chunk of the original cast plus very able support, enhanced by a band, live Foley artists, a wonderfully animated Marvin constructed from audio equipment, and a Guest Book (Clive Anderson in Woking, other books to include Phil Jupitus, Terry Jones and Neil Gaiman).

The first half follows the fairly common-across-versions tribulations of Arthur losing his house and planet and the resulting journey to Magrathea; I can’t get the jingle of Sirius Cybernetics out of my head at the moment, hence the post title, after singing along to it, conducted by a Nutrimatic Drink Dispenser. The second half is a touch disjointed, chucking in random (and indeed Random) elements of the latter books/phases, though a pleasing wibbley-wobbley timey-wimey device fits everything into such canon as is possible within Adams’ stated aims that each adaptation should contradict the previous one, and any lack of cohesiveness is made up for by set pieces like the mixing of a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster and the cast busting some deeply funky moves to the 1981 disco classic Marvin.

Two Sub-Etha thumbs firmly up; if you’re a Hitchhiker’s fan and can get to one of the shows you really should. If you can’t, and you’re in the UK, each show is available for £9.99 for 7 days. I’m rather tempted to get one with a different Book for a bit of a change, but can’t decide which one…

Wednesday 27 June 2012

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

Melmoth’s rules of altitus:

  1. You can only ever be satisfied with your character’s appearance or class, never both.
  2. If at any point you consider yourself satisfied with both your character’s appearance and class, it is guaranteed that in the next five minutes you will see another player whose appearance or class appeals to you more than your current one.
  3. During the pre-launch hype for a game, the more certain you are that a class is right for you, the more certain it is that you’ll end-up playing an entirely different class altogether come launch.
  4. Finding yourself happy with both your character’s appearance and class for any length of time is a strong indicator that you’ve picked the wrong faction.
  5. It’s never too late to re-roll for the superior beard option.
  6. Nobody is playing class X until you switch to it, and then everyone is.
  7. If you’re a tank, then your guild is ninety percent tanks; if you’re a healer, then your guild is ninety percent healers; if you’re DPS, then there are no tanks or healers in your guild. Any attempt to rectify the situation automatically invokes rule 6.
  8. All classes are the best class ever for the first twenty levels.
  9. You’ll always think of the perfect name for your character after you’ve been playing for quite some time, but well before a paid character rename is justifiable.
  10. Altitus is an affliction in the same psychological family as inveterate shoe shopping, trying to pick the fastest line at the checkout, and deciding which sweet to pick from a tin of Cadbury Roses.
  11. New race or class in an expansion? Alt. Hit a bit of a levelling hump? Alt. Logged-in to the game today? Alt.
  12. The secret gateway to altitus is opened with the magic phrase “This is definitely going to be my main character, guys”.
  13. In the extremely unlikely event that you’re entirely happy with everything about your character, you will invariably make the mistake of reading the official forums, thus learning all the myriad ways in which your character’s class, faction and beard choice suck horribly compared to everyone else.
  14. Altitus is most often contracted when receiving the seventy fifth incremental upgrade to a rarely used utility skill.
  15. Alternativa, Goddess of Alts, is a harsh mistress who will only grant an extra character slot upon the ritual sacrifice of one of your existing stable of characters.
  16. They’re not alts, they’re the pixelated vahana for my chronically fractured personality.

Friday 22 June 2012

McHeroflake's adventures in MMOland.

This week, on McHeroflake’s adventures in MMOland…

Mr J Neric (MSc, PhD, NPC): “Ah, Sir Lord Precious McHeroflake, thank goodness you’re here!”

McHeroflake: “Don’t thank goodness, thank the level-gated predestinated quest hub system!”

Neric: “Righhhht… Anyway, we need you to infiltrate a secret society of secret secretness and discover…”

McHeroflake: “Whether condensed milk comes from really small cows?”

Neric: “Ye-! No. We need you to discover… their secret!”

McHeroflake: “You hear that Mr. Anderson?… That is the sound of inevitability.”

Neric: “Who’s Mr Anderson?”

McHeroflake: “Someone who would have just loved MMOs.”

Neric: “…”

McHeroflake: “You wouldn’t know him.”

Neric: “Ha, well, I don’t know many people, really; I mean, I haven’t left this precise spot in seven years. There’s just Colin, way over there, and that’s about it. ALL RIGHT COLIN?!”


Neric: “Hah hah, RIGHTHO COLIN! Colin went a bit mad several years back after an adventurer discovered that he sold a certain item for less than he paid for it. He was exploited for days before it was discovered, and was sore for months afte–”

McHeroflake: “Fascinating! Now, about this secret society…”

Neric: “Right! Sorry! Right. Well, I’ve no idea *how* you’re going to find them, but we did receive several reports from unlicensed members of the deck department of passing merchant ships, reports which indicate that the secret society operated somewhere near the cliffs south of this village. Unfortunately all the messengers died of poisoning shortly thereafter. Yes, [shakes head sadly] many boatswains died to bring us this information.”

McHeroflake: [Behind hand] “(That’ll only work if they know how to pronounce boatswain)”

Neric: [Behind hand] “(They’ll have to look it up)”

McHeroflake: “Well, I don’t hold out much hope in finding them, then. But I will take your quest, little man. I will take your quest… for honour! For justice! And for a small armour upgrade which will probably look garish and hideous when I equip it. Could you just mark the place on my map?”

Neric: “Certainly. There you go.”

McHeroflake: “Excellent! And could you just hang a small glowing neon arrow in front my head which points the way?”

Neric: [sigh] “There.”

McHeroflake: “Very well, now – to adventure!”

[several hours later]

McHeroflake: “Well this is the place on the map; now to see if I can ingratiate myself with the locals and discover the precise whereabouts and operations of this secret society. Hmm, there’s a gaggle of people standing in the middle of that field over there, I’ll start with them.”

McHeroflake: “Hoy! I say! You there, with the name over your head [squints]… ‘Secret Society Bruiser’. What are you doing standing around aimlessly in this field? And do you know anything of a secret society around here?”

Secret Society Bruiser: “Dieeeeee!”

McHeroflake: “Eeep! I don’t want to fight! I was just trying to find some information… [runs]”

Secret Society Bruiser: “You can’t escape me! I will chase you forever! To the ends of the earth, I will hunt you until the end of days! You cannot hide from me, you ca… Oh buggerit, I can’t be bothered [runs back to the field]”


McHeroflake: [Creeping tentatively back] “I– I say. Secret Society Bruiser.”

Secret Society Bruiser: “…”

McHeroflake: “Hoy! I’m talking to you. Yes *you*! Coo-ee! [Waves] Hellooooo!”

Secret Society Bruiser: “I can’t talk to you!”

McHeroflake: “Well clearly you can…”

Secret Society Bruiser: “No, I mean, I can’t talk to you. You’ll need to get a bit closer.”

McHeroflake: “But we *are* talking, are we not?”

Secret Society Bruiser: “Well, yes but–”

McHeroflake: “So why would I need to come any closer? I can talk to you just fine from way over here. Sound waves travel quite some distance in air, you know.”

Secret Society Bruiser: “Just a little closer, that’s all. If you could just come within, oh I dunno, five yards of me…”

McHeroflake: “Five yards, you say? But wouldn’t that put me inside the big red circle that you’re standing in the middle of?”

Secret Society Bruiser: [Looking guilty] “Maybe…”

McHeroflake: “And if I step inside that circle?”

Secret Society Bruiser: “I’ll probably talk to you.”

McHeroflake: “And by ‘talk’ you mean …?”

Secret Society Bruiser: “I couldn’t possibly say.”

Will McHeroflake get close to the Secret Society Bruiser?
Does the Secret Society Bruiser know anything about the secret society?
Will Colin ever say anything nice ever ag–


Yes, thank you Colin.
Join us next week for another exciting episode of: McHeroflake’s adventures in MMOland!

Thursday 21 June 2012


KiaSA presents: another amalgam of Melmoth’s disjointed thoughts for your delectation and edification.

Tired of it

I was guiding an NPC through one of Tera’s many fields of Death and Blood (they never want to go to the fields of Fairies and Fondant Fancies, do they?). It was the usual story: he was an archaeologist whose hobbies included ‘exploring local ruins’ and ‘being eaten by the local wildlife’; I was a ripped half-dragon with a greatsword and a penchant for the wholesale slaughter of anything with a pulse. Together our names spelled out ADVENTURE! If ‘adventure’ had a few more ‘s’s in it; and an ‘h’; and was spelled ‘shitstorm’.

It started off ordinarily enough, with him walking blithely into huge groups of angry beastmen, and then looking shocked when they proposed skinning and eating him. I would wade in at that point, offering a sharp six foot steel rebuttal to their proposition, and the archaeologist would stand to one side doing nothing. Well, that wasn’t strictly true, because it was while I was buried beneath a particularly insistent group of beastmen, who were arguing –with great vehemence and stone axes– that I should let them eat my escort, that the archaeologist offered his input on the debate by stretching, looking around in a bored fashion and then… yawning.

Yawning is it? Right then. Right. Then. Thus, I put my final argument to the current group of beastmen, to which they showed their assent by lying down and dying, and then I moved off in the opposite direction to the archaeologist. It took a while for the quest to fail, and I can only hope that it was as a result of the beastmen taking their time to devour him.

Then I went back to camp, waited for him to re-spawn, and sent him off again, while I cooked popcorn over his camp fire.


There have been some recent patches for The Secret World which have markedly improved various aspects of the game, but I’m still waiting for the patch that adds in more character facial expressions than ‘ambivalent shop dummy’ and ‘surprised inflatable sex doll’.

Hold still

Speaking of The Secret World, as more proof of developers not learning from easily corrected mistakes of the past, we have yet another example of my old favourite: having the character model fidget randomly during creation. For goodness’ sake, it’s like trying to wipe the mouth of a toddler.

Head back, please.
Look at me. Now head back.
No. Head -back-.
Your other back.
Thank you. Now we just need to do wipies…
Keep your head still.
And -back-!
Look at m… Jus–no… jus… ove–back; please will you look at me and–no don’t look at the… the cat doesn’t -need- wiping!
Great, now I’ve managed to wipe the food into your ear. Put your head on its side so I can get it out.
The side.
N-no, that’s putting your head… [through gritted teeth] back.

I’m tempted from now on in MMOs to simply pick the most mismatched garish combination of make-up and facial options I can find (the ‘applied make-up on a rollercoaster’ look) and when anyone asks I’ll just say “Oh, she wouldn’t stay still in the character creator”, to which I expect them to nod in sad understanding and say no more.

Fly! Bye!

Turbine have released a new promotional video for Lord of the Ring Online’s next expansion, Riders of Rohan. As if to prove categorically that I’ve reached a point where their development of LotRO no longer interests me, the video turns out to be a fairly generic fly-by of Rohan’s landscapes and villages.

The windmill is at 0:32, by the way, for those of you playing at home.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Achtung! Gerschtompen

Excitement over Mechwarrior Online has been on a cautiously low simmer since last year’s announcement. From the details that have emerged it sounds quite similar to World of Tanks in both gameplay and payment structures, only with Battlemechs rather than tanks as you’d hope, otherwise something would have really gone wrong in the design process. I like World of Tanks, I like Battlemechs, so that’s big robo-thumbs up from me.

An interesting snippet from E3 was Razer announcing a concept controller for the game, the Artemis, finally something to rival the fabled Steel Battalion controller as the holy grail for setting up your own mech cockpit at home; I’d be lying if said I wasn’t tempted, but with Razer charging £120 for a *mouse*, chances are it’ll be cheaper to build a time machine to hop forward to the year 3049 and rip the console out of an actual mech.

More practically Piranha games announced Founders packages for sale yesterday, a chance to pick up some bonus in-game currency and, on the more expensive packages, Founders Mechs. The game will initially launch with North American servers only, but Russ Bullock, president of Piranha Games, posted “Yes you can buy the Founders Package and you will never be blocked from continuing to play on the North American servers. Also if we are able to set up servers in your region you will be given a onetime opportunity to transfer to those regions servers taking everything you own with you.” It’s something of a gamble, but I rather regret not taking up a similar offer in World of Tanks, so I’ll probably bite the bullet (or AC5 shell, as appropriate).

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Overheard in /LFG

“LFT for dungeon”
“LFT? What does that stand for?”
“Looking For Tank”
“I don’t think so, sunshine. This is a flexible game, a utopia of endless choice, free from the pigeonholing that bedevils other systems and their restrictive roles, we’ll have none of that nonsense.”
“Oh, all right. LFP (Looking For Player) for dungeon…”
“That’s better”
“… who has selected skills and abilities such that they’re able to attract the attention of monster-type-beast things, and has further selected skills and abilities, complemented by an appropriate choice of armour and weaponry, that allow them to absorb or avoid much of the damage that would surely result from the aforementioned attention with damage output being of frankly secondary importance, except insofar as to achieve the first-specified goal of attention attracting. PST.”

Monday 18 June 2012


It’s in the Diogenes

“There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger’s Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My brother was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere.”
                         — Sherlock Holmes in The Greek Interpreter.

A club which, it struck me, seems evident in many MMOs, and to which I must confess I have occasionally found myself a member.

Episodic levels

I took to listening to episodes of the Cabin Pressure radio comedy show whilst pottering around in Dungeons & Dragons Online. So far I’ve finished two whole series, and still haven’t made it from level seven to level eight. It may be the case that I’m ‘doing it wrong’, but with a Lesser Tome of Learning (permanent XP gain boost) and a knowledge of the dungeons I was running, I think that perhaps two series of a comedy show is too long per level. I’m more of a three-episodes-per-level sort of chap, or perhaps two reasonable length podcasts.

I’ll be interested to see how many Cabin Pressure episodes it takes to gain a level in Guild Wars 2, especially as I believe that the claim was made that each level in Guild Wars 2 should take about the same amount of time. Eighty levels, at three Cabin Pressure episodes per level, sounds like… a lot of comedy, still. Perhaps one for the MMO examination board?

Question 14. If an MMO has eighty levels and takes a minimum of three episodes of Cabin Pressure per level, at what character level will the player be able to recite the entire first three series verbatim whilst drunk at an MMO guild BBQ? Show all working out.

For a bonus mark: How many episodes of Monty Python would be equivalent?
Note: You may use the standard unit of Mighty Boosh to convert between episodes, but must show your working out.

If you like a lot of schadenfreude on your biscuit.

Upon finding myself a member of the Diogenes Club in an MMO, one of my pet hates is players who seem to follow you around for no apparent reason other than to nab whatever mob or gatherable item you are after. Sometimes it seems like deliberate griefing, and other times you’re simply the victim of the harmless coincidence of MMOs requiring every unique and special heroflake to be original and different in exactly the same way, in exactly the same location.

I was playing an MMO recently and had been suffering the attentions of one of these folks; I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that it was neither naive innocence nor a noble desire to come to my aid which was driving their actions. I trotted down the road to put a distance between myself and this other player, and happened to notice a glowing canister lying on the ground. In my curiosity I decided to click it, and got a message that

“This can of gasoline will detonate in 3 seconds… 2 seconds…”

I quickly ran away from the object and looked back in time to see Mr Me Too! run up to the same canister (ignoring all the other glowing canisters in the area), whereupon it promptly detonated, taking fully half his health bar away. He stopped following me after that.

And now I’ll forever be disappointed in any MMO where I can’t booby trap the clickies and gatherables.

Friday 15 June 2012

I never worry about action, but only about inaction.

Oftentimes my thoughts are a sparkling variegated cloud of fractured conceptions and convictions, a myriad array of crystal-shard fish which attempt to coalesce around a central conclusion, but continually billow and implode as sharks of uncertainty dash with writhen voracity through their midst. Contemplating the whole is to draw a conclusion from the ideas reflected in a mirror ball of madness, yet picking out one thought is to isolate it from the rest, where its now-muted rainbow facets are more easily considered, but also more readily exposed to the gape-mawed predations of incertitude.

This certainly describes my state of mind when contemplating action combat in MMOs, specifically when contrasting the forms of combat found in Dungeons & Dragons Online, Tera and Guild Wars 2. I think I like Tera’s version best, then GW2’s, and finally DDO’s, but when I try to formulate a reason why, I end up chasing a conclusion around my head as a kitten chases a spot of reflected light, where each attempt to grasp it is more frantic and furious than the previous one, until at last I am so confused and demented by my fruitless efforts that I inadvertently attack myself and burst, in carpet-tearing panic, from my place on the floor. And later, Mrs Melmoth has to coax me out from behind the sofa with a scrap of cooked chicken.

It seems to me that what we mean by action combat in MMOs can be pared down into a few constituent forms: targeting, movement and reaction. Sometimes these forms overlap: movement out of an area of danger is often combined with the reaction of responding to an enemy’s telegraphed attack – the archetypal dodge mechanic. My kitten-like flailings around the topic were no closer to reaching illumination, as all three games provide similar combat mechanisms. There’s also the fact that I feel I don’t have enough experience with Guild Wars 2’s combat to compare it fully to Tera or DDO, because I’ve yet to try PvP or dungeon instances in GW2, in which I expect movement and reaction will be required to a much higher standard than in the early levels of the game.

I do think DDO –although still fabulously refreshing compared to traditional rock ’em sock ’em MMOs– loses out somewhat to the other two. It was the first of the three, of course, and thus has the disadvantage of time and technology having moved on, but I think its biggest constraint was that it had to marry action combat with the traditional dice-based system of D&D – more a shotgun wedding than a marriage of common interests.

Thus I’m still not sure why I prefer one style of action combat over another, what with them sharing similar core mechanisms. Perhaps, in the end, it’s ‘the whole package’ which sets one system apart – that it has become more than the sum of its parts in some ineffable way. Still, I’ll take comfort from the fact that I know one thing for certain: I really enjoy action combat in MMOs. I should probably try to experience other fine specimens; I’ve never bothered to play Vindictus, to my shame. Maybe with greater experience will come greater understanding, or maybe it will just be adding more fish to the shoal of my confusion; either way, I’m rather excited to see how this area of the MMO genre develops in the future, because, for me at least, it feels like a step along a new and exciting path.

Thursday 14 June 2012

Money is our madness, our vast collective madness

In the eternal border skirmish between Genius and Madness Peter Molyneux is a gun-runner and mercenary with no qualms about supplying and fighting for both sides, often at the same time. Having left Lionhead to found 22 Cans his first new project is Curiosity, a cube that can be chipped away with one of three chisels that cost nothing, 59p and £50,000. Not only an exploration of the psychology and morality of monetisation (perhaps touching on the rather interesting points Richard Bartle raised about fairness in micro-transaction based games) but also, as Oscar Wilde would have doubtless put it, mad as a box of frogs.

Talking about the game and wider issues, a GamesIndustry article suggests “… there are examples of individuals spending far more in free-to-play games – one World of Tanks player invested almost £500,000 in a single tank.” Sounds a touch high to me; I’ve heard of similarly insane totals being bandied about in relation to Project Entropia, but never World of Tanks. Extensive and thorough research (30 seconds spent typing “world of tanks £500,000” into a search engine) didn’t turn up anything apart from the original article, and a deeply confused “Related Posts” plugin that decided people reading about footballer Rio Ferdinand might be interested in “World of Tanks Ferdinand weakspots”. Actually, that’s not a bad idea; make a note, Darling: play heavily armoured tank destroyer as centre back for England.

The most expensive tank you can buy in World of Tanks, on the EU/US servers at least, is the Löwe for (depending on exact amount of in-game gold bought for real money, special offers etc) somewhere around £40; even if you use gold to convert experience to qualify faster for a Tier X tank, convert gold to credits to buy the tank, spend gold on training the crew, buy gold cosmetic camouflage, fire gold ammunition and use gold consumables in every match while snorting gold dust as some kind of bizarre and entirely ineffective narcotic (don’t try and get high on unreactive metals, kids) you’re not going to dent half a million quid.

The economy of the game functions in a different way in other regions, so I guess there was some crazy one-off purchase somewhere else; the only other explanation I could think of (barring a major decimal point shifting error) is that a World of Tanks player, inspired by the game, went and bought an *actual* tank. I was having a bit of a poke around the MilWeb armoured vehicle classified ads, as you do, and at the time of writing Northeast Military Vehicles Services LLC have got a rather nice looking M18 Hellcat (Tier VI US tank destroyer in the game) for $469,000…

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Fie sir, Fie sir.

Leopard, leopard, dazzling white
In these dungeons scant of light,
What designer’s hand or eye
Could frame thy hopeless comedy?

In those distant deeps you fought
A thousand deaths, my heals for nought.
Who struck from thee all circumspection,
And stuck me with thy resurrection?

And what humour and what wit
Would make a minion such a sh…ambles?
And when thy heart again does beat,
Why bounce straight off to thy defeat?

What programmer? What tool chain?
In what AI was thy brain?
What the devil? What the hell?
Dare thee pull that group as well?

Will thy maker ashamed confess
This parody of newb DPS?
Did He smirk His work to see?
Did He who made the Charr make thee?

Leopard, leopard, dazzling white
In these dungeons scant of light,
What designer’s hand or eye
Could frame thy hopeless comedy?

With considerable apologies to Mr Blake

I’ve quite enjoyed playing as a Ranger in Guild Wars 2, but I do wonder if the person responsible for developing the various aspects of the pets (especially the impossibly fragile snow leopard) was a healer in an MMO, and harbours a deep-seated grudge against DPS classes.


And now to take another centimetre off the bottom of the human Mesmer’s starter dress; I’ve been doing it once a week for five years, and still nobody seems to have noticed.”

Kickstarter for the day.

See it as a penance for my time in Tera if you will, but I’ve donated to this Kickstarter on Tropes vs. Women in Video Games

And then donated a little more when I read about the harassment that Ms. Sarkeesian has suffered from certain select segments of our online culture.

As fellow gamers, I’d ask you to give it your consideration and pass the message on.

Thanks to Thade for raising the flag on this one.

Monday 11 June 2012

Do not bite at the bait of pleasure, till you know there is no hook beneath it

Without a single game to obsess over at the moment I find myself meandering around a variety of stuff for a “quick fix”, a 5 – 20 minute chunk of gameplay; sometimes I’ll plan for a couple of straight hours of gaming like an Operation in SWTOR, but that’s an exception rather than a rule. Chunks of gameplay can naturally chain together, the old “… just one more turn” of Civilisation, “… just one more song” in Audiosurf, but they’re meaningful enough if you only have half an hour to spare. Ideally there should be something longer term as well, whether it’s character development, levelling up, a story, unlocks, or just shooting for a high score. Without one or other, things tend to fizzle.

The Guild Wars 2 beta has no shortage of bite size chunks, you can hardly move around the introductory zones without stumbling over someone that needed a helping hand; I almost punched a farmer out when he started talking about hoes, but it turned out he was just after some gardening implements, he wasn’t commenting on the starting outfit of my Mesmer. It bodes well for release, but like I mentioned, the impermanence of a beta removes most of the longer term motivations. Apart from the really important stuff (i.e. hats) I’m not too bothered at the moment, though I ought to have a look at Wuvvuwhuuvwoo sometime.

Mass Effect 3 had one of its fortnightly multiplayer events, Operation Mastiff, which gave a bit of an added incentive to blast waves of Geth, Cerberus and Reapers. Each round lasts for 15-20 minutes which works out pretty nicely, and there’s a longer term hook in earning credits to buy equipment packs. Their randomness is getting a little annoying; much like the old sticker collections from school, the more you have, the faster the evaporation of the rush from tearing open a brand new pack when it turns out everything inside is a duplicate. I haven’t managed to find any of the new characters from the Rebellion DLC pack, or much useful permanent equipment, but I have got piles of shotguns I’ll never use… Still, such is the way of the RNG, so while I might quit in disgust at finding a Turian Soldier for the sixth time, I’ll be back at some point, feverishly tearing open another packet in the hope of finding the top half of C3PO. (I never did get that sticker in a packet or from swapping, I had to send off a stamped addressed envelope to complete the collection in the end…)

Star Wars: The Old Republic has a variety of bite sized options at the level cap. There are repeatable daily missions on a few planets, which do at a pinch, but I’ve never been a big fan of daily quests. There are the space combat missions, but as you fly along exactly the same rails each time they get repetitive very quickly; further tantalising hints of updated space content have been drifting out of E3, so there may be hope yet for a Something Very Similar To Jump To Lightspeed But With A Different Name To Avoid Trademark Issues expansion. My favoured option is the PvP warzones, 8v8 instanced fights with themes like “Kill The Dude With The Thing (Then Take The Thing Somewhere)”, “Click On The Thing (Then Stand Near It)”, and my favourite (and catchiest of all) “Click On A Series Of Things Then Swap Around And Stop The Other Team Clicking On Those Same Things”. As time goes on, though, these become distinctly less appealing as the disparity in gear, and thus power, between players becomes ever greater. It’s not unique to SWTOR, of course, most MMOGs run into similar issues; Funcom’s Craig Morrison recently posted to expand on a tweet responding to someone wanting gear parity in Age of Conan with the appropriate title of “The eternal PVP debate”. Ranked warzones and/or an increase in the level cap in future patches may help the situation, for now I’m taking a bit of a break; a while back I mentioned SWTOR warzones had generally supplanted World of Tanks for my daily drop in dose of screaming frustration (and/or triumphant victory), and Juzaba commented: “You know what the best thing about TOR pvp is? Your tier 6 tank is not repeatedly stuck in fights against tier 9/10 tanks.” Ironically, that’s a pretty good comparison for a modestly geared character going up against someone in full uber-deluxe PvP gear, so as the wheel turns, I’ve gone back to World of Tanks.

World of Tanks has the quick fix covered, battles take 15 minutes at the very most, usually less. There’s plenty for the long term as well, researching and unlocking new equipment and working up the tiers of available tanks, but I’ve more or less abandoned that side of things; levelling up gets pretty painful in the mid-tiers, that’s when spending money on a premium account or gold to convert experience can really help move things along, but I’ve got a garage full of tanks I’m happy with so I just roll them out for a round or two. It’s really just about the battles themselves, like the good old days of FPS deathmatches, with a bit of an added incentive in the form of persistent stats. There’s an Android and iOS mobile app available that shows your stats, perfect for chat-up lines down the pub (“Hey darling, check out my average Capture Points per match”), but one of its headline figures is your win/loss ratio, and caring too deeply about that is a sure path to insanity when it depends so heavily on the random people you’re dumped into battles with. Gank linked to a mod that displays an “efficiency rating”, which seems a slightly more sensible metric. I’m saving up the free experience, though, as the British are *finally* coming (in a couple of patches time, after some more made-up French post-war nonsense), when they arrive I’ll probably upgrade to a premium account again.

Saturday 9 June 2012

He wears his faith but as the fashion of his hat.

Meanwhile in Guild Wars 2…

M’colleague found some cosmetic items in the Guild Wars 2 store, and seeing as we each had some gems in our wallets, we decided to try them out for style. You can’t deny that Charr look rather splendid in shades – m’colleague on the right hand side doing a fine impersonation of Ozzy Osbourne, I think you’ll agree.

But it was the hats that really topped the bill; I think I’m looking quite pimp, there on the left. Alas, they share the same cosmetic slot as the shades, and indeed can only be equipped in cosmetic outfit mode, which means that you can’t charge into combat while wearing a top hat as you can in at least one other game; well you could, but you wouldn’t have any armour or weapons available to you, so it would probably be a short, if fabulous looking, death.

Friday 8 June 2012

Te-ra for now.

My time in Tera has come to an end for the time being, but I just wanted to make a quick post for all the dance fans out there. Here’s my Aman Slayer in the latest armour he’d been granted. Ooooo yeah. He just needs some fake tan and he’s all set to appear on Strictly Come Dancing, don’t you think? I’m sure someone somewhere thought it’d be fun to have Aman males look like they were the Hulk bursting out of a clown costume, but I have to say it wasn’t really a style that appealed to me.

“In the grim black darkness of the forest night, only one man stands against the forces of evil.

And he’s wearing a ruff.”

And for the squee zomg cute! fans out there: I already thought the Popori were a rather adorable race –although perhaps somewhat out of place set against the grim dark ruff-wearing races of Tera– but I think the zomgcute-o-meter almost broke a needle when I stumbled upon my first Popori youngling; reminds me somewhat of the Gibberlings from Allods, which is still the most deeply splendid concept for a playable race that I’ve experienced in an MMO to date.

I’ve definitely enjoyed my time in Tera, it was an experience worth having, and as Bhagpuss points out, there’s a trial to be had if you were interested in Tera but didn’t want to fork out for the full box price. However, I’m not convinced it’s the best way to showcase a game like Tera: the tutorial is fairly mundane, with very few, if any, of the game’s BAMs (Big Ass Monsters) to really let the combat shine, and using Gaikai’s streaming client means that the graphical quality is degraded far below the native client’s stunning resolution; perhaps better to wait for a free trial through the native client, for those who are still curious about the game.

I think Tera is marketed at quite a specific audience, and I’m not really part of that demographic, but I have to say I was still pleasantly surprised by some of the elements I found during my time in this curious and somewhat controversial game.

Thursday 7 June 2012

The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities.

From a PC Gamer article:

“Firefall’s world is made to be explored: there are few limits to where you can go. It’s an MMO built for those who see distant waterfalls, shadowy peaks and crashed ships and want to know if anything’s over there. Right now, in the early beta, there isn’t, much, but there’s enough to get an impression.”

Is it only me who wants to find something when I get there?

It’s one of those MMO development tropes which really bugs me: make vast swathes of landscape, slap a couple of vista viewing stations with suitable landmarks in the distance, and call it done. Then pop a fly-by on YouTube, preferably with a rousing soundtrack

Dun dun dun DUN DUN DUN “Here are some hills! Have you ever seen hills like these in any other MMO?” dun dun dum de dun DUN dum dun DUN dun de dun DUN “Here are some houses! In a village! AMAZING!” dun dum de dum de dum DUM DUN DE DUN “Now here’s a forest! Bet you weren’t expecting THAT! Look at the Speed Tree optimisation on those babies! A forest! A forest! Just like every other! But this one is ours!” dun dun dun dun DUN DUM DUNNNNNNNNNN DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNNN “Uh oh, here comes a fortress! WITH RAMPARTS! AND BAD GUYS!” OoooooOO! OOooooOO!

and call it done. Best. MMO. Ever. Hmmm? What do you do in this landscape? Well, there are some mobs scattered about. They stand there, staring longingly off into the distance, perhaps wondering if there’s anything interesting at the top of that cliff (there isn’t, we just thought a cliff would be cool), and you can, uh, run up to them and kill them and, y’know stuff. It’s details, we’ll sort that out later. Just enjoy the AMAZING landscapes for now. Bet you haven’t seen a landscape in an MMO before!

Like many MMOs before it, Tera was terrible for this (have we all done the Terable pun in our minds? Yes? Okay, good, let’s move on). The game was stunning to look at, breathtaking, but it was all stage dressing. There’s the occasional Kodak moment, where you are compelled to halt your grind momentarily, stare in wonder, and possibly line up a screenshot, but that’s all there is to it. I rarely think “I should go and explore over there” in an MMO, because I know that ‘over there’ will provide a disappointingly desolate experience, akin to looking behind the stage dressing and seeing the ropes and pulleys holding the set together.

I can’t see the point in making a virtual world to explore if there’s nothing to discover but scenery – I already live in a world with awe-inspiring panoramas, so what a virtual world should provide is the suspense, adventure and danger which I cannot find in this world, or do not wish to risk my life experiencing. When you say your world is made to explore, give me something more to discover than waterfalls and windmills.

Skyrim’s environments were impressive, both beautiful and accessible, but I wouldn’t have spent as many hours as I did wandering through them for the sake of the scenery alone, it was the jeopardy and adversity which I found along the way that kept me exploring. It was that association of adventure with both exploration and environment which made the experience so complete – locations and landmarks became significant because of what happened to my character there, no longer a simple part of the game’s world, they became an intrinsic part of my character’s world. It seems a simple rule, but one which is rarely followed in the MMO genre: make a game’s world the backdrop for adventure, don’t make adventure the backdrop for a game’s world.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.

It was a bit of a mixed weekend of gaming for me. I didn’t have much to do with the PC because it was mini-Melmoth’s birthday, and thus I spent most of my time building Lego models with her, and –along with Mrs Melmoth– playing various board and card games with her. I can heartily recommend Labyrinth as rather good fun, but would advise against Top Trumps if you too have a four year old who can evidently read minds or has x-ray vision; I lost more games of Top Trumps over the past weekend than my gamer fortitude can rightfully endure, and so I fully empathise with others when they express their torment in dealing with gaming losses.

Along with the birthday of the Infernal Queen of Top Trumps there was a double bonus super surprise fun holiday weekend here in the UK, so I had very little time to switch on the PC what with one family event or another to attend. I did get a spare moment or two on Sunday, and flipped into Tera to find that my box-included subscription time had expired, and I have to confess I was torn as to whether I should continue my subscription. I’ve flicked over to a couple of MMOs while I’ve been playing Tera, including the regular Friday night session of DDO, and none of them compare to the freedom I get from the combat in Tera. That’s not to say Tera’s combat is a revolution, there are still the same hotbar buttons to press, but the freedom of movement, nay the necessity of movement in order to stay alive, is something which I sorely miss when I return to the more traditional Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots style found in the MMO WoWpack. Tera also tweaks the traditional hotbar button mashing sequence with the addition of chained combo. attacks, which allows for a much more natural flow of attacks to be chained in quick succession; being knocked down and hitting the spacebar to trigger a leaping counter-strike, followed by another correctly timed spacebar press to immediately follow-up with an overhead slam, may sound simplistic, but it is the sort of addictive action-orientated style with which fans of beat ’em up games would easily empathise.

While pondering a further subscription to Tera, I patched Star Wars: The Old Republic and Rift, and did my customary login check to see if either was available to me, via a free weekend or such. To my surprise Rift did indeed allow me access, and a quick bit of investigation showed that I still had a week or so of my previous three-month subscription running. Maybe it was Tera’s action combat, or perhaps a general ennui with the genre as a whole, but I couldn’t find any spark of enthusiasm for Rift whatsoever. The wait-on-global-cool-down combat seemed ponderous, almost ridiculously so. The game was still as pretty as ever, but again, the incredible fidelity of a game such as Tera, whether you can stomach its design decisions or not, leaves other MMOs looking like so much aged tarnished brass. Rift’s soul system is, perhaps, the most frustrating part, a design which promises so much freedom, and yet delivers the same constrained-by-PvP ‘pick the useful abilities from the trash’ limited build potential that World of Warcraft’s talent trees always did. From the great potential that such a system promised, what was delivered was essentially a way to easily respec between traditional trinity roles, a step change over WoW’s dual spec. system to be sure, but still disappointingly bland – a soul system with no soul.

It’s so utterly frustrating because I really want to like Rift, I like the concepts which they have chosen to implement, but everything seems so formulaic and constrained. There’s no wild frontier, no trailblazing – they’ve followed the traditional paths through the design wilds, simply trimming back the undergrowth a little more, paving the way with stone blocks and posting road signs. It’s the same reason I probably won’t find myself subscribing to Tera or Star Wars: The Old Republic, for although there is trailblazing to be had, it is still just a few minor detours off into the wilds, before quickly re-joining the perfectly straight, perfectly smooth, perfectly monotonous routes which have been trodden for years, to the point that they are more Roman road than primitive path. I have no doubt that it is as much to do with my tiring of the tropes of the genre as anything, but it’s also born of the frustration that games such as EVE clearly demonstrate that this genre does indeed have the potential to encompass wildly different forms beneath the canopy of MMO, yet it’s still one of the few MMOs which forged a way into the wilds and never concerned itself with returning to the common path.

Of course deliberating over subscriptions is all moot at the moment, as my PC decided to trip the fuse fantastic last night and now refuses to even spin a fan. I’m hoping it’s just a power supply problem (and that it didn’t go Spartan and take the rest of the components with it), but for the time being I’m on an enforced MMO abstinence, and as such I’ll be catching up on my reading; as well as losing a ludicrous number of games of Top Trumps, I imagine.

Friday 1 June 2012

Tis not too late to seek a newer world

Sometimes I find a book needs a bit of a run-up. Not literally, apart from perhaps those on the top shelf of a particularly tall bookcase when you don’t have a ladder to hand, more of a mental run-up; first time you try it you get through a few pages or a chapter, but it just doesn’t click. I read the opening pages of Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver a couple of times, setting it aside in favour of other books, before finally getting over that hump, then never looked back over the course of the trilogy.

Bioshock 2 was a bit like that. I loved the first Bioshock, the sequel had been floating around my Steam library, I fired it up a couple of times, but somehow it never clicked until I gave it another crack recently. Only two years late to finish it! Maybe I’ll have a go at that Space Invaders thing everyone’s talking about next.

Part of the problem might have been how I was approaching the game, it took a little while to get into a mindset of not seeking perfection in every encounter, not worrying about long range pin-point accuracy with the early guns and desperately preserving first aid kits and EVE, but barrelling into combat and making liberal use of the ability to shoot lightning from your fingers (useful for shocking and damaging opponents, and also means you never need to worry about your mobile phone running out of charge). Though the world of Rapture has lost some of its novelty from the first game it still has superb design and atmosphere, the storyline picking up and complementing threads from the first game; it gets a little muddled at times, but that’s not entirely out of keeping with the general mood of decay, chaos and insanity.

You get a nice range of weapons and powers including a fairly standard shotgun and machine gun, and the research camera that provided such splendid combat paparazzi opportunities in the first game reappears, this time as a movie camera. Perhaps the most interesting new weapon is a rather visceral speargun that, combined with ragdoll physics, lifts splicers flailing through the air and pins them to walls. A bit Piranha brothers, though disappointingly there’s no “screw pelvis to cake stand” secondary fire mode. To rub lemon juice into the paper cut you can even retrieve the spear to replenish your ammunition stocks, causing the previously-pinned splicer corpse to crumple to the floor.

An unusual aspect of Bioshock 2 is the tactical options that you have for some encounters. In several cases you have the opportunity to prepare for a fight; gathering ADAM from a corpse, for example, you know will attract a horde of splicers, so before you start you can liberally sprinkle the area with happy fun surprises. Many of the weapons offer a defensive option via alternative ammunition types: trap rivets set tripwire-triggered bundles of delight, trap spears stretch electrified cables across passages, the hacking tool can deploy automated mini-turrets and proximity mines from the launcher are mines that explode when enemies are proximitous, which is lucky, as if they were cutlery trays that could hold only teaspoons they would be completely misnamed. Coupled with the Cyclone Trap plasmid and the ability to hack and co-opt initially hostile cameras and turrets, you can prepare formidable fortifications and stand laughing as waves of enemies are cut down by your defences, or run around swearing when you realise you completely missed a couple of avenues of approach.

Very much like its predecessor, I thought Bioshock 2 peaked a bit early; towards the end I had more money and ammunition than I could possibly use, so the last couple of levels were fairly cursory romps, clusters of frag grenades and heat-seeking missiles making short work of anything that moved. Overall, though, well worth persevering with.