Tuesday 31 July 2012

Necessity is the mother of futile dodges.

Calcaneus. The heel. That terminating projection of bone behind the articulation of the lower leg. A major structure of the foot; a critical design flaw, and cause for recall, of the Achilles model of Greek hero; and the primary reason why action combat doesn’t work in MMOs.

The KiaSA Guide to MMOs has this to say on the subject of action combat: It’s an awful lot of jumping around, without really taking into consideration the power of the heel.

The KiaSA Guide to MMOs has this to say on the subject of the heel: Provides a simple yet highly effective method of being able to pivot on the spot, thus ruining most forms of action combat found in MMOs today. Also: combined with a baby parsnip and a doll’s wig, can present a passing fair representation of Prime Minister David Cameron.

‘Dodge! Dodge!’ cry the developers; thus I fling my character around the screen like a freshly landed sea bass flopping its way across the deck of a boat, trying—in utmost futility—to escape its tormentors. In the meantime, my enemy stands on the spot and spins around slowly, punching me all the while.

“Can’t you see I’m dodging here?”

“Yes, yes [smack] you’re doing a tremendous job. [thwack] Stirling effort and all that [thock]. I really am quite in awe [spang] of your mobility and [biff] energy, leaping all over the place [poon] as you are [bosh]. I mean, you’re really making my job [funt] modestly more difficult [dorf] than it need be, maybe more [bum].”


“Sorry, I was aiming higher, but you, well—moved.”

“I’m not going to be able to sit down for weeks, you know.”

“Look I’m sorry, it would have happened if you’d just stand still, instead of all this…”


“This flopping around.”

“I am NOT flopping.”

“Here we go…”

“This is active dodging!”

“Uh huh.”

“I was trained by a Grand Master, I’ll have you know!”


“Spent punishing years in Tibet.”


“Forged my mind and body into the singular living embodiment of the art of ‘getting the frack out of the way’.”

“But aren’t you just, uh, running around in a circle and jumping a bit?”

“Oh, that is IT. The minute I’m able to stop dodging I’m going to fwap you *so* hard. Are you… are you tiring at all yet?”

“Not really.”


“I could probably go on like this for hours. I mean, it’s not like I’m having to break a sweat or anything; I just keep spinning on my heel and carry on punching. How about you?”

“I’m getting quite tired actually.”

“Perhaps you should have a little lie down.”

“I couldn’t possibl—”

“Here, let me help: [FUNCH]”

Oh sure, I can dodge the preposterously telegraphed attacks, where the enemy spends more time winding-up their strike than I used to spend trying to eke out an extra bit of speed from the Evel Knievel Deluxe Dare Devil Stunt bike. That damnable bike, where I’d quickly wind the handle to close to the theoretical maximum speed, then spend the next half an hour oscillating between fractionally faster and fractionally slower speeds as my body alternately lost and regained its coordination, before ultimately tiring to the point where I slipped, mistimed the release, the bike flopping pathetically over onto its side two centimetres away from the ramp, and I knocked myself unconscious on the launch ramp as I fell. Good times.

That form of one-button active dodge is just a quick time event in disguise. Certainly the ‘dodge event’ serves to break up the monotony of traditional rock ’em, sock ’em MMO combat, but it’s not really a step-change in the evolution of combat, more a small step in the right direction.

Tera solves the ‘heel pivot’ issue by having the mobs be continuously dumbfounded when your character dodges. Whenever you leap behind a mob, they will stand there in a comic ‘Durrr, where’d she go?’ sort of way, before slowly turning around and—after a merry ‘Boh! There she is!’—continue on with the fight, allowing you to get a few free hits in without retaliation in the interim. Still, Tera was one of the few MMOs where I actively sought combat, rather than trying to avoid it all costs unless directed to do so by a quest.

DDO solved the problem by making casters ludicrously more powerful than melee, and seemingly giving every boss a massive unavoidable AoE knockdown in order to punish anyone daring to get into melee range. The fact that casters need to chain-chug mana pots purchased from the Turbine store in order to maintain their level of power? Coincidence. But that’s the danger of having the power-gaming community rule a game: it’s terribly easy in such a case for the developer to exploit the need for maximum optimisation, primarily through in-store incentives.

“Oh, you don’t *need* to buy this from the store. Not at all. The content can be done just fine without Store Consumable X. I mean, gosh, of course you’ll probably run it about thirty seven seconds slower than if yo—”

[Store Consumable X has sold out]

MMOs, for now, are combat. Even in TSW, which at least tries to mix things up a little, I’m beginning to tire of the number of problems in the world that can only be solved by going out and slaughtering a *precise* number of tightly clustered creatures. Yet for all their insistence on combat being the Ultimate Solution to all problems…

“MMO Mother, I can’t do up my shoes!”

“Kill five pairs of them!”

“MMO Mother, I’m having trouble with my homework.”

“Kill your homework!”

“MMO Mother, I can’t open this packet of crisps.”

“Kill the packet and all the crisps inside. And then kill nine more packets to teach them a lesson!”

“MMO Mother, there’s a wasp!”

“Right, what you need to do is travel halfway across the world and ask Uncle Geoff whether we can borrow his wasp catcher. You’ll probably find that he’s happy for you to do that, but that his wasp catcher is broken, as it often is. Thus, you’ll need to travel to seven locations across the globe, collecting the rare parts which can only be found in these out of the way places, and bring them back to Uncle Geoff. He’ll then repair the wasp catcher for you, but only if you can perform the Ritual of the Wasp. To learn the Ritual of the Wasp, you’ll need to speak to the Fifteen Sages of Waspdom, who are spread out—far, far, far, far out—across the world. They’re slightly eccentric folk, though, so I expect each of them will require you to quest for an insignificant item of no consequence before they divulge their secrets. Good luck!”

“Can’t I just kill it?”

“What sort of crazy talk is that?! Kill it… I never heard such— aye, what sort of child says such things? I blame your father.”

…it seems strange that when seasoning their combat, the MMO chefs decided to leave variety in the spice rack. The current format of standing still and playing a game of Farmville on fast-forward (press buttons, in order, based on time-limited resources, eventually win) clearly doesn’t lend itself terribly well to a more dynamic form. It’s almost as though MMO combat is stuck somewhere between the more cerebral experience found in tactical RPGs, and the more dynamic action found in beat ’em ups and FPS games, and can’t really decide to which audience it ought to cater. That’s not to say that MMO combat doesn’t have its own style, its own niche differentiation, it’s just that the fundamental design is nowhere near compelling enough to be used so persistently, without it quickly becoming impossibly dull.

Monday 30 July 2012

Mechwarrior Offline

There are some pretty beefy multi-joystick controllers available for Mech games, and dedicated sim-pilots can construct impressive multi-screen home cockpits, but Suidobashi Heavy Industry have gone one better with Kuratas, a 4 metre 4.5 tonne BB-gatling-toting robo-monster. I wonder who’s going to be the first to turn up with one at an Airsoft fight…

Thursday 26 July 2012

All our final decisions are made in a state of mind that is not going to last.

There are no respecs in The Secret World. If you place your Action Points (APs) and Skill Points (SPs) into an ability tree which you then find you don’t really like, no problem, just start spending points in a different tree. You can go back and repeat quests to earn plenty of AP and SP, and a quick dash through the PvP gauntlet in Fusang Project when you know the correct tactics will also grant you swift gains. So, no respec necessary, say the developers, just change course and carry on!

Which just goes to show how little they understand.

Those misspent points haunt me, taunt me—flaunt their redundancy. In my dreams a constellation of orange AP icons swim around my head before diving, in regimented fashion, into a black hole. A long twisting line of blue SP icons waddle along on their lower edges like parallelogram penguins, before hopping one after the other into a furnace. All this to the tune of Disney’s Pink Elephants on Parade

Look out! Look out!
Poor decisions have been made!
Here they come!
Hippety hoppety.
They’re here and there,
Poor decisions everywhere!

Waking up in a sweat in the night, screaming “I SHOULD HAVE PUT IT ALL INTO MAKING FISTING BETTER” is at best going to elicit a grumbled rolling-over from Mrs Melmoth, and more likely a sharp clout to a sensitive part of my body, followed by an interrogation the next day as to the precise meaning of such an outburst.

It must break a Hague Convention in some perverse way: to breed and cultivate a group of OCD, statistic-snorting, optimisation addicts, and then to start making games which give them the freedom to make mistakes, then correct for those mistakes, while leaving the initial errors in place. It’s like telling Monk that he can leave the tumbled pile of bricks over there, and just start building a new tower over here. Uh, not willingly, no.

Perhaps I should have re-rolled my character, back when there was still a chance I wouldn’t horribly burn-out trying to catch-up with my friends in the game again; by now it’s too late because I’ve progressed too far. However, I suppose it’s a tribute to such a system that I still have just the one character (possibly a first for me in an MMO), and having changed tack with regard to that character’s development on several occasions, I’m still playing the game without issue. I’ve been enjoying myself, even. Admittedly, there was that one time where I raged for hours about the cruelty and madness of not making a respec token available on the in-game store, but I don’t think the Post Office clerk was all that interested—their only contribution was to ask if it was a book of first or second class stamps that I wanted. And the night terrors continue, of course, but perhaps it’s all part of my rehabilitation from altitus.

Actually, I’m finding playing just the one character quite liberating, and the novelty seems to be taking hold, because I’m approaching the forthcoming release of Guild Wars 2 with a rugged determination that I’ll be playing just the one character, at least until such a time as I feel that I can do no more with them.

Of course there’s still the danger that I’ll wake up yelling about how I should have picked a Mesmer, but a decisive swat from Mrs Melmoth is sure to be a quick antidote to such concerns. Is it true that TSW has cured me of my altitus? I suppose we’ll find out a month or so after GW2’s release, but for anyone playing at home, I suspect that m’colleague is making a book on how long it will be before I re-roll, and that the longest duration he’s given odds against is in the order of microseconds.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Holiday quest complete.

Achievement unlocked! 10 – Summer holiday!

Achievement unlocked! 50 – Negotiated the British public transport system!

Achievement unlocked! 75 – Survived fresh air, sunshine and exercise!

You have gained an interesting amount of experience.

You are exhausted and must rest before undertaking another holiday quest.

You have been granted the Sore Feet feat.

You have been awarded the title The Trampled.

You have been awarded the title Lord of Shoulder Rides.

You are now hunchbacked.

Unlocked the Slightly Less Ghostly White skin colour in the character creator.

Your reputation with the Wife faction has increased by 50 points. You are now Friendly with the Wife faction.

Your reputation with the Daughter faction has increased by 100 points. You are now Popular with the Daughter faction.

Your proficiency in dual-wielding backpacks has increased.

You have been granted the Proffer Tickets Using Only Your Teeth feat.

Your resistance to overcrowded tourist traps has improved.

Your resistance to overeating junk food has weakened.

You have seven bizarre souvenirs to place in your player house.

Your bank account contains twelve copper pieces.

Friday 20 July 2012

The only time I ever enjoyed ironing was the day I accidentally got gin in the steam iron

It’s summer (apparently), so it’s Steam sale time. This year’s event has been going for a week now, but like last year I’ve generally resisted temptation, even without lashing myself to a mast or stuffing cheese in my ears. I’m not sure if it’s just my perception or a genuine shift but cheap games hardly seem particularly notable now, columns like Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s Bargain Bucket turning up sales from the various digital providers, pay-what-you-want bundles and the like on a weekly basis. There’s also the move of “free to play” from murkier backwaters to the mainstream (even if it’s still tainted in the eyes of some), making a plethora of shooters, MMOGs and more available for the princely sum of no pence. Unlike a few years back, “it was a bargain” isn’t really a good enough reason on its own any more.

Another factor is that previous sales, especially those involving large bundles, have resulted in many of us having Steam Libraries of Guilt, lengthy lists of games we really must go back and finish sometime… or indeed go back and *start* sometime; someone’s even come up with a nifty analysis tool to check the stats. I have been checking out this year’s daily Steam offers, something the Android mobile app is ideal for when out and about, or even when stuck at a loading screen in another game. There have been flashes of temptation (“75% off new powersets and end-game content for DCUO so it’s only a fiver?”), but rationalism has held sway (“Total time racked up with the game so far is about 37 minutes, extrapolating from that it’s unlikely I’ll need any end-game content until the year 2072. And then only if no more games are released in the meantime.”) I have bought one game, though; you probably haven’t heard of it, it’s a really obscure little title, goes by the name of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Just need to find the time to start it up now…

Wednesday 18 July 2012

I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times

Unlike many MMOGs that bestow an ever-expanding range of skills, spells and abilities upon players as they frolic and cavort o’er hill and dale The Secret World is more similar to Guild Wars, restricting the player to seven active abilities, chosen from a wider pool, and seven passive abilities. Eight abilities shalt thou not equip, neither equip thou six, lest ye not yet have gained sufficient AP in the Lord’s sight to purchase seven. Nine is right out.

This system works rather well, especially for players who like a bit of deck building. Some attacks are of a particular type such as “Frenzy” or “Chain”; other abilities are more effective when used on mobs in a certain state such as being “Afflicted”. Get yourself a couple of nice Frenzy attacks, find a passive ability with an effect like “All Frenzy attacks also Afflict the target with a DoT”, then slot in an attack that does bonus damage when the target is Afflicted, ate wallah (as they say in Swindon), a nice bit of synergy. If you just want to get on and poke stuff with swords (or hit things with a plank of wood) then each faction has a number of template decks you can work towards; if you want to get yet more complex you can delve into the crazy underworld of bridging passives and the like (full details available from guides such as Yokai’s). For the moment the game is young and thrusting and urgent, the coffee is free and the love is cheap, and as far as I’ve seen the nigh-infinite possibilities of power combinations have yet to congeal into a couple of Player Authorised builds, deviation from which shall be most sternly frowned upon. It might even stay that way; at the very least it’ll give us some more data points for the good old debate around classes/skills/roles/templates/tankmages/whether to put jam or clotted cream on a scone first.

At the risk of being something of an MMO Goldilocks, though, after complaining about having too many abilities over four crammed hotbars in SWTOR, I’m feeling that the seven active abilities of TSW aren’t *quite* enough. With two or three long (30-60 second) cooldown abilities you’ve got room for, say, a couple of attacks that build resources and a couple more attacks that consume those resources. Solo combat can then get into a bit of a rut of mashing long cooldown attack(s) when available interspersed with 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2 (or maybe 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4 for AoEing a group). On the plus side this does mean you can devote more attention to what’s happening in the game world rather than the interface, especially useful with so many mobs in TSW having telegraphed attacks that you really want to avoid, but perhaps just a couple more ability slots would make things a bit more interesting.

The option to switch weapons, abilities and gear at any point that you’re not actually in a fight makes for great flexibility. In an instance you can go from a resilient AoE-heavy build designed to pick up adds during one fight to all-out single target damage if the next boss is all alone (you know, that boss that none of the minions really like; “yeah, Norman, sure, we’ll turn up if you start getting attacked, soon as you get to 75% health we’ll all swarm out, attack the healers, don’t you worry about it… (aside: not really, we’re all going down the pub now)”.) In theory you could do the same thing for general solo gadding about, alleviating some of the problems of repetitive combat, but having put together a set of abilities that seem to be good enough for most encounters I’ve been pretty much sticking to those. One reason for not experimenting more has been the gear management system; in theory you should be able to put together a set of weapons, gear and abilities, and save it for instant recall later; in practise it’s been rather unintuitive and flaky. Apparently yesterday’s 1.02 patch has improved it, though, so I might give it another go.

Friday 13 July 2012

Is your pet really a druid?

KiaSA presents an easy step-by-step guide on how to check if your pet is really a druid in disguise.

Number One: The Shadow.

The Shadow.

My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage

Not much to report for Hat News Now Today from The Secret World so far, with a distinct lack of hats in the early part of the game, something of a theme in MMOGs. First tiers of WAR: no hats. First planets of SWTOR: millinery-free zone. Early WoW: les chapeaux? Non. There must be something about hats that precludes their sale to new adventurers. Is it the worry that overconfidence and inexperience may lead the novice to adjust their headgear to an angle of inappropriate jauntiness, such as would cut a fine dash when strolling through a peaceful capital city, but resulting in a restriction of vision that could prove fatal in an ambush situation?

Via Ysh, there’s a splendid guide to the cosmetic items available at Pangea, the clothing store in London, but there’s a distinct lack of hattery there. Quest rewards offer a couple of options, I’ve picked up the baseball cap for completing missions in Kingsmouth to go with a couple of others acquired in the pre-launch Secret War, but a baseball cap is hardly going to excite the Hat News devotee like a crocodile skull.

In lieu of hats our correspondent has been taking a look at weaponry. Selecting the Blade skill, there are some fine swords on offer:

A sword

A sword

Not a bad start, pretty functional, has a pointy end which is generally considered a Good Thing by sword aficionados.

Another sword

Another sword

Slightly more ornate, important when on the pull (UK, informal, attracting a mate), not so much when pulling (MMO, formal, attracting a monster)

Yet another sword

Yet another sword

Stab like an Egyptian with this khopesh-inspired piece from the Council of Venice emissary in Kingsmouth


An ornamental teapot, circa 1630.
Nah, just kidding, it’s a sword.

Rummaging around the wreck of the Polaris may yield this techno-katana if you’re lucky. Note the ring that allows you to clip your house keys on there, perfect for the forgetful adventurer.

Having spent a while both fighting and avoiding other players, your correspondent had earned enough tokens for a Quality Level 6 weapon from the PvP vendors in the society base. Exciting times! What sleek, deadly implement would be available? What sort of style would the new blade be? What…


… the hell is that?

“‘Scuse me, Mr PvP Weapons Vendor”
“There seems to be some mistake… I asked for a sword”
“And you gave me this plank with a couple of nails banged into it”
“Blade, QL6, one of. As requested.”
“Right. Right. Look, I see where you’re going with the style, very Aztec, got the macahuitl vibe, that’s great, I hear tribal is very in this season, obsidian is the must-have igneous rock, it’s just… I’m going to look a right twazzock lumping this thing around”
“I just give the things out, complaints are downstairs, in the basement, in the disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’. Next!”

Fortunately there is a solution. For 30 Sequins of Solomon Island you can buy a kit from the Council of Venice that, when combined with a weapon, produces another kit (destroying the original weapon in the process). This new kit, when combined with a second weapon, applies the appearance of the first weapon to the second. Alternatively, for another 10 or 20 Sequins, you could just buy a QL5 or QL6 sword from the Council that doesn’t look so bloody stupid. At least I hope it doesn’t look so bloody stupid, I didn’t have enough Sequins left to buy one…

Thursday 12 July 2012

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature.

There’s always talk about MMOs having a perfect launch, but it’s surprising how much goodwill players will show if the game offers a compelling enough experience. The Secret World is definitely not a disaster when it comes to bugs, but I can think of a few MMOs which were more finely honed by the time of their release and yet failed to garner the positive post-launch attention that TSW is receiving. In terms of coding snafus TSW is a squatter’s lice-infested pallet compared to the Queen’s immaculate mattress of Tera, and yet I think it’s fair to say that TSW is by far the more popular and favourably reported upon game. So all this talk of polish and perfection upon release seems to me to be so much bunkum. What players are really looking for is a game world and game experience which offers hooks which are sufficiently compelling – do this, and players will forgive you an awful lot. World of Warcraft was horrendous at launch, I mean truly unplayable twenty-second-wait-to-loot-a-corpse awful, but it was forgiven that and more, because it offered an accessible and compelling gaming experience like no other before.

I’m not saying that MMOs shouldn’t aim to be bug-free at launch (or as close as one can reasonably expect within the realm of complicated software systems), but it seems to me that TSW provides positive evidence for the case that players are more forgiving than is often portrayed, *if* they are given a reason to believe in a game. Refine the detail and the design, and players will forgive an awful of inconvenience in the implementation – at least until you’ve had a chance to fix it.

The two big issues in TSW for me at the moment are the broken chat system and a not insignificant number of bugged quests.

Chat is just broken, full stop. Period. End of. It’s over. Finished. Done with. Over with and done. Finished over and done with. Full period, end stop. From my experience, TSW’s chat system is currently the most mind-warpingly malign monster in the game.

I like to have General, Looking For Group and Mission SpoilersHints turned off, as they are the usual pit of endless quest spoilers, inane self-idolatry, pedantry, passive-aggressive arguments, abuse and drivel. The TSW chat system insists on turning them on – when I log in; when I change zone; when I dare to glance at my chat window. Of course there is an option to turn off auto-subscribing to channels, which, when used, does indeed stop these channels from being added to my chat window – along with all the channels that I do wish to see. What’s more, if I manage to get them working at all, the channels that I do want to view are then unsubscribed by the chat system at every seeming opportunity. It’s like some sinister sentience is controlling my chat window: I’ll see the tab for a private chat channel update, whereupon I glance across to read the message, only to find that the private channel had been dropped a while back, and in its place the dastard of discourse had popped up a message from Sky TV’s The Spoiler Channel (Sky 666)

“Today on The Spoiler Channel, Harry ‘Smugpants’ McPhearson takes us through the entire solution to the quest The Black House, but first-up it’s time for Blurt the Keypad Code of the Day with the Reverend Joseph ‘Obdurate’ Johnson”

Reverend Johnson: “SEVEN FIVE TWO FOUR NINE! Ha ha he he haa!”

Funcom are aware of the issue but have yet to exorcise the demons from chat, so for the time being I’ve taken to hiding my chat window off the bottom of the screen, where it haunts the edge of my vision and calls to me with a siren song which promises sensible parlance. But I know the horror which lurks therein: the Necronomiconversation.

Monday 9 July 2012

The fairly incomplete and badly illustrated guide to PvP in The Secret World

Having spent upwards of twelve minutes in the various PvP battlegrounds of The Secret World over the past week, the KiaSA team are now masters of the ancient art of peeveepee, and ready to share their secrets with you…

There’s no general world PvP in The Secret World, which is excellent if you want to team up with friends from different societies to tackle daemonic hellspawn, less useful if you want to sneakily kick a Dragon in the nuts and feed them to zombies. To sign up for PvP either hit “P”, select “PvP from the menu or click the little crossed swords under the mini-map. You’re then presented with a map with three destinations: Fusang Projects, Stonehenge and El Dorado. Select one of these and hit “Join”, you’ll be placed in a queue, and when there’s an available space you can join the battle. Above the “Join” button you’re given a choice of three possible uniforms that broadly correspond to the traditional roles: High Powered Weaponry for DPS, Reinforced Armour for tanks and Integrated Anima Conduits for healing. The uniforms slightly adjust your stats (e.g. High Powered Weaponry boosts damage by 5% but reduces healing by 5%), and also give a visual cue as to what sort of opponent you might be facing, though with the flexibility of builds in The Secret World they could also be bluffs; someone in a healing uniform might really be an undercover tank focused on self-heals… Uniform chosen, it’s time to fight!

Blowing a Fusang

The Fusang Project is ingeniously concealed under the PvP section, but is actually a completely different type of warzone, a Player Avoids Player area. When you first enter the zone you should see a terminal with three available missions: Capture a Facility, Capture an Anima Well and Kill 10 Players. Under no circumstances pick up the latter mission, it’s a trap, take only the first two. Then, open the map, look for a mass of players from your society (also know as “the zerg”), and run towards them. If you see an enemy player on the way, ignore them completely; if they attack you, stand immobile, thank them profusely as they’ve probably saved you some running, wait to die, then check the map for the closest respawn point (Anima Well) to as many of your society as possible. Select this well from the dropdown list, respawn there, and join the zerg.

All being well you should be heading for an enemy-held Facility. There are four of them on the map: East, West, South and Centre. Each is guarded by an automated turret and forcefield outside the main gates, and a big old Guardian Type Monster thing inside. When you arrive at the Facility everyone should stand near the turret and mash random keys until it’s dead, then run inside and mash random keys until the Guardian is dead, then someone clicks on a thing, you claim the facility, and get stacks of XP and PvP tokens from the mission. If you forgot to pick up the mission beforehand, you’ve got time if you’re quick to pick it up from the facility itself after the guardian dies. If you’re lucky the turret might already be down by the time you arrive at the Facility, if you’re *really* lucky you pitch up just as it’s captured, and you get your XP for nothing and the tokens for free.

After phoning in the mission completion run outside, and hopefully at least a few people will be heading for an enemy-held Anima Well; tag along with them, stand near the well while it’s captured (or click on it, if nobody else seems to be), phone in the second mission for more XP and tokens, then leave the zone with all speed. You can return once the timer on the two missions has expired, if you like.

If your society is so dominant that it holds all four facilities, or so unpopular that there’s only three of you in the zone, leave at once. You may be tempted to try and “fight” some “players”, but that would be silly. The Fusang Project is a cunning allegory, demonstrating that if we all just work together and seize the means of production from faceless entities we’ll be showered with rewards, but if we turn upon each other and fight then everything just bogs down in pointless slaughter, and nobody gets cake and medals.

Stonehenge! Where the demons dwell

If you actually want to fight players, Stonehenge is the destination for you. The Stonehenge battlefield in The Secret World is an implementation of the summer solstice at the actual site. The Dragons represent a bunch of new-age hippies, anarchists and similar types trying to get to the stones for some sort of festival that probably involves joss sticks and falafel. The Templars are law and order, representing the police who want to stop them, and dish out a beating to some crusties while they’re at it. The Illuminati are the press, ostensibly there to observe but really trying to engineer a fight for some good pictures, and as they simultaneously represent both The Daily Mail and The Guardian, they’re equally hated by both the other groups.

Your side scores points in Stonehenge by having the most (live) players within the big circle in the middle of the map, so what you really want to be aiming for in this battlefield is:
1) Standing in the circle
2) Killing enemy players

What you should *not* be doing is:
1) Standing outside the circle
2) Being killed by enemy players

As this is pretty complex stuff, here’s a diagram to help out. Look up your standing-in-the-circle-ness on the X-axis, and your killing-or-being-killed-ness on the Y-axis, and check the resultant advice in that quadrant:

Stonehenge Battlefield Guide

El Dorado, Mysterious City of Gold

Unfortunately I can’t tell you anything about the El Dorado battlefield for two reasons. Firstly it seems less popular than the others, so the queue for it is much longer. Secondly, upon joining the queue I’d fire up YouTube on the in-game browser and spend the next hour singing along with the theme tune to Mysterious Cities of Gold, thus missing the “Join” window if it ever did turn up. Aaaaahhhh, ah ah ahh ahhhhhh, searching for the cities of goooooollldd…

Saturday 7 July 2012

Postcards from Kingsmouth.

Kingsmouth Library’s late book return penalty.

He’s farting the tune to Don’t Stop Believin’

What did you DO, Ray?

Intuition is the clear conception of the whole at once.

The Secret World is a deeply splendid game which brings with it some intriguing game-play elements, but it also remains a little bit buggy in places, as is the Funcom way. Certain quests are particularly susceptible to bugging-out, quite often when more than one player is trying to activate a step or solve a problem at the same time.

Investigation quests are one of the more interesting elements of the game, requiring players to use lateral thinking and powers of deduction to solve a chain of clues and riddles in order to resolve a mystery. Some of the answers to this particular type of quest are really quite obscure, and often require a significant leap of intuition on the part of the player.

But the really fun part comes when, after hours of increasingly more ludicrous attempts at solving the problem, with one’s character hanging upside down from a street lamp by one leg, with underpants on its head, candles in its ears, and its naked body covered in marmalade, one gives up in frustration and looks up the solution online, only to find that the quest is bugged and that the correct solution was, indeed, to simply put the key in the lock.

Friday 6 July 2012

Sound trumpets! Let our bloody colours wave! And either victory, or else a grave.

There is a hard disk in my PC which is a graveyard for MMOs. An incredibly large and ponderous device, it is the ghostly oil tanker devoid of life, which drifts in an eternal bank of fog, whose hold is filled with an abandoned cargo of games past. The swift and nimble Zodiacs I use for the day-to-day traversing of the great gaming sea are both small and light, and thus carry only the bare MMO necessities—those few games which I currently play.

Upon entering the graveyard of MMOs, every folder is a beige pixel-hewn tombstone, every directory name prefaced in my mind by ‘Herein lies…’.

“Herein lies Lord of the Rings Online.
Long time friend.
Who got a bit boring and greedy
sometime near the end.”

I let my mouse cursor—virtual fingertip—wander across the surface of these hierarchical graves, tracing the memories captured in the names written there. Often I must resist exhuming a game, the swelling tide of happy remembrance threatening to breach the weakening resolve of my cynical defence against emotional floods. Usually I can content myself with browsing through old screenshots, as perfect as the day I took them – our picture albums no longer fade along with our memories.

Rarely do I attempt to resurrect a game from its magnetised mausoleum, but often I wish myself a Frankenstein of files, able to take a perfect piece from this crypt, some small segment from this other, and thence hammer and hew, stretch sinew and stitch, until my meisterwerk takes form. Would it be a monster? Would it be misunderstood? Could the best of what has come before be combined in a such a way that it still formed a whole, one which was greater even than the sum of these mighty parts? Perhaps Vanguard’s quiet lonely lumbering at the edge of MMO society has already answered this.

I dragged another vault to the graveyard of MMOs today: farewell Tera, I have fond memories of what you were, and sad thoughts of what you could have been. Now my Zodiac is loaded with The Secret World and Guild Wars 2, and as I push myself away from that leviathan of expired MMOs, before opening the outboard of my enthusiasm, I bask in the feeling that I won’t have need to return for quite some time.

Thursday 5 July 2012

It is the folly of too many to mistake the echo of a London coffee-house for the voice of the kingdom

Player characters in MMOGs don’t tend to be a very chatty bunch. Not the *players*; fascinating socio-political debates in /general, the growing prevalence of voice chat, you can’t shut those buggers up. Their characters, though, tend to let their actions speak for them, giving eloquent speeches like “KILL RAT KILL RAT KILL RAT KILL RAT KILL RAT KILL RAT KILL RAT KILL RAT KILL RAT KILL RAT”, with an occasional bit of interpretive dance (or as close as you can get with an /emote) chucked in. Even textual dialogue choices are mostly limited to “Yes, I would love to perform a menial task for meagre reward” or “I would love to perform a menial task for meagre reward, but have no room in my quest log at the moment.”

Recent games are featuring much chattier player characters; in Guild Wars 2 your character has fully voiced conversations, and of course there’s the Guinness World Record holding Star Wars: The Old Republic, but it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand some players find it odd if ‘you’ are mute, especially when everyone else in the world is yakking away nineteen to the dozen, on the other hand if you don’t like the voice, or think it inappropriate for your character, it can be a real immersion-breaker.

In The Secret World Funcom have either ignored the issue entirely, or tackled it head-on, I’m not quite sure. There are many cutscenes as your character is recruited into a society, briefed on missions, given general information on what’s happening in the world, with extremely voluble NPCs, and throughout them all you say… nothing. Hardly unprecedented, but it’s a touch odd, especially given the amount of talking other people are doing. Sometimes, like when you’re recruited, it’s quite obvious the NPC is talking directly to you, other times it’s almost like they’re extemporising away and you just happen to be in the area… one scene seemed to be two other characters talking to each other while I stood somewhere in the vicinity (almost out of camera shot), but I still ended up being assigned a mission out of it. The game even lampshades your inaction, having NPCs offer a handshake, and commenting when you continue standing entirely immobile with no indication you’re even aware of their presence. Outside cutscenes you can quiz some NPCs about a range of subjects and receive a spoken response, with no in-game indication of how you managed to elicit it; my current theory is that you have a big pad of paper, and scrawl “YOURSELF” or “ZOMBIES” on it, then wave it at the NPC until they start talking.

It’s quite peculiar and has been mentioned in many of the posts and reviews of The Secret World that I’ve seen, but somehow it sort of works. Perhaps because the world in general in TSW is quite peculiar, in a good way. The whole business starts with an origin story inspired by Burl Ives (“I know an old Templar who swallowed a fly, I don’t know why she swallowed a fly, perhaps she’ll die? Or perhaps she’ll gain magical powers that enable healing through the medium of an assault rifle. It’s pretty much 50-50.”), and builds from there. I think a lot of the appeal of the game has been leaping head-first into the off-kilter version of our world without any prior knowledge, much like your character, and gradually piecing together what’s happening from talking to NPCs, examining lore items and other snippets you happen across, and in that context your character’s silence is an inspired Brechtian alienation device. Or maybe they just ran out of time and money for recording dialogue.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Look closely at those who patronize you. Half are unfeeling, half untaught.

Play the game, not the UI

Now, you might be thinking, “Hey, game designer! That’s about the stupidest thing ever typed.” And it kind of is. How else are you going to play the game? The way we mean it is: Since we are creating a living online world in which you heroically spend your time, we want you to viscerally experience that world.
                  Ben Miller, Game Designer, ArenaNet.

I know a certain set of MMO developers think that all players are dribbling innocents whose pretty little minds are preoccupied throughout the day by nothing but kittens and lollipops, but players have been talking about this for some time. No, really.

Respect the player

We respect you—as a player, as a human being.

“We think you’re clueless. But we respect you for it.”

It’s wonderful that you’re making a game for players, ArenaNet, truly. But could you stop making out that you’re single-handedly re-inventing the genre? When what you’re actually doing is implementing various features that players have been requesting (and subsequently been ignored over) for years.


What we have are these ‘buttons’, and you can ‘press’ them to activate ‘abilities’. We want you to be able to intuitively control your character’s actions using the input device of your PC.

Okay, okay, I made that last one up.

Melmoth—resignedly awaiting the invention of the device which allows ArenaNet to patronisingly ruffle one’s hair over the Internet.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

He steps on stage and draws the sword of rhetoric

With Bioware releasing the “Extended Cut” DLC, I’ve popped back to the single player campaign of Mass Effect 3 to see the new versions of the endings. Haven’t got terribly far yet, being distracted by The Secret World, but I thought I’d go back to a save game at the temple at Thessia to get a decent run up to the finish, and try and remember what was going on.

(This post is spoilery, in case you still haven’t played ME3 and are thinking you might want to at some point.)

I’d mercifully forgotten about perhaps my least favourite element of ME3. Never mind the ending(s), never mind schlepping around scanning the galaxy for random tat and playing “dodge the reaper”, what really wound me up was Kai “Sodding” Leng. A Cerberus assassin, he turns up and evades your clutches at the Citadel earlier in the game, stabbing one of your chums in the process, then just as you discover the secret of Thessia he crashes the party and spoils your day in a scripted encounter that you have no control over. That’s a little irritating in itself, but such is life in most games with cutscenes; you get captured, a key villain escapes your clutches, you just can’t save somebody, you pick a jacket that *really* doesn’t go with those trousers. Something happens in the story, regardless of what you do as a player. If Our Hero suffers setbacks along the way, it makes the eventual triumph sweeter, fine. Trouble is, so far as I can make out, Kai Leng is A Dude With A Sword. While battling horrors beyond imagination that are wiping out all life across the entire galaxy, you, Commander Shepard, Commander “Wipes Out A Couple Of Geth Fleets Before Breakfast” Shepard, Commander “Punched Out A Reaper” Shepard *and* your two elite highly trained companions are unable to stop one dude. Who doesn’t even have a gun. From a spot of Googling he seems to be in a couple of the tie-in novels, but from the perspective of the game he turns up with little fanfare. No massive build-up of what an awesome foe he is, not a returning nemesis from the first or second game, just A Dude With A Sword. Sure he’s above average when it comes to stabbing people with said sword, there’s a good chance he was voted “Most Likely To Stab Lots Of People With A Sword” in high school, but before that encounter you’ve been taking out gigantic truck-sized Brutes, twisted, mutated Banshees, big stompy Cerberus mechs with rocket launchers. If they wanted A Dude With A Sword (Oh All Right And A Few Psionic Powers) to be one of the toughest opponents in the game, he really needed a bit more build up. Or a much bigger sword.

I say “one of the toughest opponents”, he manages that by cheating; knock down his shields and he calls in backup in the form of a flyer that shines a bright light at you, proving Shepard really should’ve gone to Specsavers for free reactive lenses. Leng’s shields regenerate, and you get to do it all over again a couple more times; a fairly standard boss fight mechanic, but a little unusual in ME3. There’s a sort-of similar previous encounter when you’re using a target designator on a Reaper, but that’s a planet-destroying nightmare from space, not A Dude With A Sword. As boss fights go it’s not quite as jarring as the widely reviled encounters in Deus Ex: Human Revolutions, but it’s a bit of a faff. Though if you’re packing a massive sniper rifle and heavily geared for devastating headshots, three bullets interspersed with heavy sighs are enough to see him off.

Leng turns up once more, when you finally get to kill him off (or do you? Ahhh!) (Yes, you do.) (Or maybe you don’t?) (Except you really do.) (Don’t you?) I thought there might be some revelation; while Cerberus were monkeying around at the start of ME2 they used your DNA in a super-clone project (“Shepard… I am… your brother!” “NOOOOOOOOOO!”) Nope. Just a dude. With a sword.

So. Farewell then
Kai Leng.
You were a
Dude. With a sword.
Keith’s mum did not have
A sword, but apart from that
Would have been about
As plausible as a

E. J. Shepard, 17½.

Monday 2 July 2012

Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.

I wonder if Funcom should start a timer running when the end-user license agreement pops up on the patcher for The Secret World. I’d like to know the average time a player spends reading it.

I managed “End-user Agreement. PLEASE READ CAREF—” before the natural instincts of my index finger, honed over years of MMO quest accepting, and moving faster than the speed of thought, slammed itself knuckle-first from the top rope onto my mouse button while screaming “WHATEVER!”. I think that’s a new record of endurance for me.

The nice thing about accepting quests in The Secret World is that the nature of the game encourages you to stay a while and listen. Clues and hints, as well as atmospheric snippets of lore, are contained in the dialogue, and although the pertinent quest text is always included in the player’s journal, there are often still very useful titbits to be had by listening to the whole story from the NPC quest-giver. Not to mention the fact that the stories are simply compelling.

For me, the difference between The Secret World and Star Wars: The Old Republic is that the conversations in TSW seem bigger somehow. Most quests (outside of the main story) in SWTOR seemed no more than idle incidental background to excuse getting the player to kill ten womprats, whereas every quest dialogue in TSW seems to be part of a greater whole—part of a connected universe. Yes, even the ones getting you to go and kill ten zombrats. Ragnar Tørnquist has always been a great storyteller; whether you enjoyed The Longest Journey series as a game or not, it’s hard to deny that an epic tale is told within. I think a lot of Tørnquist’s talent shines through in the overarching story of TSW, which is revealed as much through the amalgamate of minor tales divulged with every quest, as it is through the main story quest; something which makes this small world feel more authentic than an entire galaxy of quests, far, far away.

The Secret World once again puts the lore in explore—one of the aspects of play which I’ve been missing in MMOs for quite some time.