Thursday, 28 June 2007

Roles Per Guild.

Welcome to your first guild, friend! To get you started, here's a brief list of potential members and how to identify them:

The Guild Leader
Quote: "Holy crap, is this guild still going?"

Most likely to: Turn up when it'll interfere with guild operation most.
Least likely to: Be a leader.

The Raid Leader
Quote: "No, I don't care that Tony has contributed five copper
less to the guild funds. <takes swig of vodka> No you can't start a
raid, we're in the middle helping this guy with his attunement. <drags
on a cigarette> No, I don't care that Tina is wearing the guild tabard
as a thong again. <drinks vodka from bottle> No, I will not tell the
healer group to 'Heal Better' in raids <drags on two cigarettes at the
same time> No, I will not tell the DPS group to 'Go crit themselves'."

Most likely to: Go postal.
Least likely to: Have fond memories of their last five years in MMOs.

The Suckup
Quote: "What do you think we should do, Raid Leader?
Yes, that's what I was going to say too, you're so right.
Raid Leader! Raid Leader! Tina wore my guild tabard as a thong again, and
then gave it back without washing it!"

Most likely to: Be ganked by their own guild.
Least likely to: Take any action without approval in triplicate.

The Mouth

Most likely to: Have only just reached teen age.
Least likely to: Breathe between sentences.

The Loot-linker
Quote: "Hey look at these everyone! [Sword] [Shield] [Armour] [Bow] [Dildo] Shit.
loot-linker has disconnected from the game"

Most likely to: Link to a kitchen sink in guild chat.
Least likely to: Have an item that other people don't know about in every
excruciating and tedious detail.

The Psycho
Quote: "Oh, so you like the Assassin class do you?! So you're some kind of racist
then are you? Nazi lover. Of course you all love Nazis, it's not like
anyone loves me!"

Most likely to: Take Tom Clancy novels too seriously.
Least likely to: Be a florist in real life.

The Internet Lovers
Quote: smooch slurp giggle sigh hug

Most likely to: Sit in public areas and force their deep emotional connection
down everyone else's throats through the medium of emotes.
Least likely to: Be together once they meet in real life and realise that
they're of the same sex and neither one of them is gay.

The Silent One
Quote: "Night all."

Most likely to: Say "Night all" in the same room as the Internet Lovers when
they're in the middle of a cybersex session, scaring them
witless because they had no idea that anyone else was there.
Least likely to: Be remembered by anyone.

The Attention Seeker
Quote: "Look at me I'm doing something crazy! Look how crazy I am!

Most likely to: Be run over by a dragon whilst wearing their underpants on their head.
Least likely to: Be mistaken for the Silent One.

The Drama Major
Quote: "Myn gentil fellowes, in feyth ich haue had a joly tyme!
Verily and forsooth!"

Most likely to: Stay in character at the most inappropriate moments.
Least likely to: Be understood.

The Drama Llama
Quote: "I quit, you all suck! I am back, love me! You all hate me, I quit!
I'm baaaaack!"

Most likely to: Quit the guild.
Least likely to: Resist rejoining the guild five minutes later.

The Clique
Quote: "... do we know you?"

Most likely to: Quit the guild and form their own. With a latin name.
Least likely to: Like you.

The Real Life Champion
Quote: "Hey look at the new car I bought. My new computer has seven graphics cards.
I'd love to stay and play, but I have to go and pick up my new computer
in my new car whilst having sex with five attractive members of the
appropriate sex."

Most likely to: Work at McDonalds.
Least likely to: Wash.

The Levelling Machine
Quote: "Hrm, I have twelve raid-worthy characters, which would you like me
to bring?"

Most likely to: Wake-up one morning with the sickening realisation of what a
horrid waste of time and energy it all was.
Least likely to: Recognise the big glowing ball of fire in the sky.

The Alt King
Quote: "Hi! What? It's meeee. Oh, yeah, I re-rolled.
This new character is way better, I just wasn't getting on with the
last one."

Most likely to: Have rolled three new characters by the time you finish reading this.
Least likely to: Reach the next level on their current character.

The Knowledge Font
Quote: "You are quite wrong. As can be seen by the four spreadsheets I have
produced with special information that only I know because I'm the dev's
favourite and they whisper to me in my dreams."

Most likely to: Talk over someone else to prove that they know the answer too.
Least likely to: Avoid being sickeningly smug in any situation.

The Good Guy
Quote: "Hey! Are you guys groovy? We're all groovy! Let's all be groovy
and just get along. Groovy."

Most likely to: Not cause guild drama, and to play calmly and happily to the
best of their ability.
Least likely to: Exist in any guild. Alas.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Toon on blondes.

The next generation of MMO players are already in training in games such as Toontown, and your intrepid adventurers of all things massive and multiplayer ventured forth into this strange new world to find out what MMO means to younglings that may never have heard of Everquest or World of Warcraft.

After getting past the initial hurdle of the hideous installation process, which involves Internet Explorer (AND ONLY INTERNET EXPLORER. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED), ActiveX controls, Flash installations and multiple webpage bizarreness, the game loads and you're presented with the character creation screen. Character creation is a simplistic affair, although it still offers more customisation than certain popular MMOs that one could mention. Zing! Take that, Big Kid's MMOs!

To start off with you choose the sex of your character and then Minnie or Mickey Mouse will lead you through the rest of the creation process depending on your choice. The girls go with Minnie, the boys with Mickey, in case there are any deviant 'Minnie Mouse fanfic' writers out there. Next you can choose what sort of toon you will play, such as a monkey, dog, cat or rabbit; height, body shape and head size can be altered, followed by body colour, which can vary from limb to limb as demonstrated by my lovely assistant Prof. Spiffy Frinkelzilla in the picture from yesterday's post. Clothing options come next, which includes style and colour, although you scroll through the options one at a time and each colour choice is effectively a new item, so if you don't like the Hawaiian shirt option you have to scroll through all the colour choices for that shirt style until you get to the next one. A minor niggle really, although for inveterate character customisers such as myself it got a bit frustrating when I had picked a shirt design and then found a pair of shorts I liked the look of but which didn't match that shirt, thus forcing me to scroll back through many items to find a new style of shirt that I liked. Whether people will be focussing on that niggle, or on how much effort I put into creating a cartoon character for a three day trial of a game for seven year olds is open for debate. But Sir Monty was the coolest cat on the block by far, which considering he is in actual fact a rabbit, shows just how cool we're talking here.

Finally name generation is required, and this is where the 'this game is for kids' aspect is highlighted for the first time. You can choose a name and type it in, as per normal MMOs, but it will be sent for approval before being allowed in the game, so no cartoon characters called Bugs Bunny69 or the Cockulator, which is a seriously good thing for a kids game but also not a bad idea for a Big Kid's MMO either, in my opinion. The other option, if you don't want to wait for approval, is to pick from a list of approved names which you build into a combination; there's an optional title, a forename and an optional surname which is made of two separate words combined, 'thunder' and 'nerd' seemed appropriate for me, so I went with that. There are some awesomely bizarre names in the name selection menu, and you can therefore create some weird and wacky combinations without too much trouble. My wife, who was staring over my shoulder in mild bemusement at the antics of Zoso and I, was particularly tickled by a duck we saw named Fat Max Spacklefoot; kudos to you Fat Max, the ministry of silly names salutes you!

Once you've created your masterpiece of anthropomorphized slapstick, you're popped into the game's very brief tutorial which, as with most MMOs, introduces you to the basic controls and interface elements. The game uses the arrow keys to steer the character around and there's no mouse look, which is excellent in the fact that you won't see any characters spinning through three hundred and sixty degrees at improbable speeds, but it does force you into becoming a keyboard turner by default. Being used to slightly more flexible controls as we Big Kids are, this made the thing feel very clunky, but I imagine it would translate well to the various console platforms which is perhaps the main motivation behind the restrictions. Also, this is a game for kids so, you know, I probably shouldn't be expecting a scriptable UI and multi-macro keybinds. Besides, you get used to the controls in short order as you progress through the introductory quests.

And quest you do. It really hits you quite quickly that Toontown is indeed a fully-fledged MMO training ground for kids, a staging ground for raising the next generation of virtual warriors and warriettes.

The basic concept of the game is thus: Cogs are invading Toontown and you need to help stop them. The Cogs are robots which manifest themselves in the manner of various 'dull' themes from the real world, such as bankers, lawyers, bureaucrats and Pop Idol. Ok, not the last one. Not that I discovered anyway; it's probably an end of game boss, thinking about it. These semblances of seriousness are prone to self-destruct under the onslaught of a player character's good ol' cartoon tomfoolery, or Gags. Gags are the character abilities of the game; as you level up these abilities you can gain more powerful versions of them, and as you perform quests you earn the opportunity to learn new classes of gags. You start off with two basic attacks: throwing a pie at the mob, or squirting water at them. It was hard to progress far into the game, but we did get far enough to see the next class of gags, one of which was an AoE attack and the other was a group heal ability; as Zoso pointed out, if people have the opportunity to shout out "HEAL MEH!!1" it must be a proper MMO.

And a proper MMO it is.

It has the grind of a proper MMO, with the two new classes of gags requiring an inordinate number of quests to be performed before you qualify to go on the final 'gag quest' to earn the right to use that class of gags. You can only pick one of the two new gag classes at any one time, so assuming you wanted to learn the other class of gags, you'd have to grind out a whole load more quests. New gags within each class are earned by using the existing ones. To level up throwing gags, you throw pie at mobs and each time you do your progress is shown on a meter to let you know how far you've progressed. Throw enough pies and you get the chance to throw... bigger pies! For slightly more damage! It's easy to mock, but when you think about it it's exactly what you get in a lot of popular MMOs these days; many of the rewards for achieving the next level on your character are just the same abilities, but ever so slightly more powerful.

Observing an MMO distilled into its most basic essence so that it is accessible to children makes you realise just how much smoke and mirror schemes are employed to give the sense of achievement and purpose that is the foundation of the grown-up games.

Mmmmm, deep. Ok, it was about as deep as a paddling pool. Speaking of paddling pools: combat! Nice link, eh? Smooth. Seamless. I should be on the radio. Speaking of radios: combat! Combat in the game is a matter of running up to a mob until you make contact with them, which will then initiate combat mode. As MMO training for kids, this can only be forging a new generation of Leeroy Jenkins and tanking cloth wearers who think that the only way to pull is to throw yourself bodily at the enemy, but it keeps things simple and obviously that's the name of this particular game. Actually the name of the game is Toontown, if it was called Simpletown I don't think it would go down so well, less so if they shortened it to Simpleton. Anyway! Once in combat your available abilities pop up on the screen, you pick one, and if you're fighting several mobs you pick which one to aim at. You don't group in the game, instead anyone can join a battle in progress up to a maximum of four players. This is quite a refreshing way of doing things, as it doesn't matter if the mob is nearly dead or at full health, if there's a space and you join before the mob dies then you get credit for helping defeat it. It's open to abuse, obviously, but this is a game for kids so I'm not sure that AFK Whore and XP Leech is likely to be a part of their vocabulary. The combat is turn based, where the toon group takes a go, then the Cog gets to return fire. The group gets twenty seconds or so to take their turn, so if you're used to Guild Wars pace you're probably going to think the world has stopped turning, but for anyone being introduced to the genre for the first time it provides enough of a sense of urgency to be entertaining, especially if you're seven years old.

To further it's classification to proper MMO status, mobs wander the streets and will add to the combat if they come close enough to your group while you are fighting, where everyone is locked stationary in position until all engaged enemies are defeated. The respawn rate was pretty crazy in some areas, and for such a 'basic' game it actually got pretty hairy on several occasions as additional mobs joined the fight just before we finished the current batch. At one point we had so many adds that defeat was inevitable and it prompted Zoso to jokingly exclaim "I donut leik this game. It's too hard. I'm going back to something easy for seven year olds. Like WoW". To which I could only cry "Forsooth!". They've got eight million customers, but you can be sure that Blizzard still feels the burn of biting social commentary from a couple of obscure MMO bloggers. Oh yes.

Once you've completed your quests (and quests can take an age to complete, because just like in 'real' MMOs, mobs of the type that you need for your quest are never to be found until after you no longer need them, then you can't move for that type of mob but can't find the new ones you're looking for) you can warp back to town, where warping is represented by you pulling a comedy hole out of your pocket, popping it onto the floor and jumping into it. Nice! This same animation is used for a lot of the cool travel warping abilities; a really cool one is the ability to warp to the location of anyone in your friends list. Genius! Absolute joyous revelation! Alas, anyone trained on Toontown is going to hit serious shellshock once they delve into one of the world-spanning, FedEx delivering, ever-running MMOs that the big kids play.

You have a limited number of gags to use before they run out, but never fear for they are easily recharged by hopping on the magic tram and visiting one of a number of mini-game areas. As with combat, anyone can jump on the tram while it's waiting at the station, and then whoever is aboard when it leaves joins together in a quick one minute mini-game which is selected at random. There are various games, the ones I played either involved cooperating as a team and getting a group bonus if you all achieved the goals (such as a perfect round on swimming through a bunch of rings), or they involved competing and trying to outperform the other players in the game to get the biggest reward. Even in a game for seven year olds, PvP is a brutal gladiatorial struggle to the death! Well, not 'to the death' so much as 'for greater quantities of jelly beans', where jelly beans are the currency that you use to replenish your stock of gags. Again, good training for the hostility of future MMOs, and some players were probably a little too desperate to win the Apple Catching tournament, or Minnie Mouse's dancing competition. I caught myself at one point in a game desperately shoving other player characters out of the way in order to get the best position to catch the juicy red appley rewards dropping from the sky, suddenly I realised the full horror of the barbaric PvP training camps that were churning out the next wave of gankers. Then I slapped myself and realised that seven year olds running around and enthusiastically nudging each other out the way is all part and parcel of playing at that age, and I was perhaps being a little too fatalistic in the face of cartoon animals chasing after fruit. It was late and I'd had a lot of coffee. Coffee makes me weirder than usual. On the scale of weirdness, that's very weird, to non-experts.

And that's about the gist of it for the short time period we played. Disappointingly for an MMO demo. a whole raft of functionality was disabled to the trial player, so I couldn't, for example, try the go-kart racing or the chat functionality; for chatting in the trial you're limited to selecting phrases from a menu, but it's very well implemented, with a huge range of phrases sensibly and tidily organized in menus, allowing you to spam 'Rock and Roll' over and over, or explain exactly what quest you're on and how many mobs you need to complete it. Rock and Roll! One final feature that I'll mention that was available in the trial, although I didn't play with it much, was player housing in an Animal Crossing stylee, allowing you to furnish the place with rewards and vendor-bought items!

I know! Player housing. From the outset. These seven years olds are spoilt I tell you! Why, back in the day there wasn't any housing to speak of, you just covered yourself with a sheet if you were lucky enough to have received such a rare drop, otherwise you hid under a tree! And that's only if your coal-powered graphics engine supported trees...

Monday, 25 June 2007

Who framed Billy Blogger?

Inspired by Van Hemlock's Operation Cheapseats, and with Zoso pointing out that a cartoon MMO does in fact exist in the form of Disney's Toontown. Your intrepid explorers of other worlds set out to investigate the three day trial of this epic MMO.

And boy, did we have a lot of fun on day one!

Introducing your hosts for the event:

Zoso (left) and Melmoth (not left).

More to follow!

Sigh. Fie.

Summer: when a young poster's thoughts turn to flights of MMO genres. Actually it's more about the lack of such MMOs than anything, but the question to my mind is: will they add any depth to the MMO market? The problem is not with the different genres themselves - I'm as keen as the next grindmonkey to play a decent sci-fi MMO - but whether these games will be anything more than a fresh bed sheet to place on the well worn, lumpy and slightly mouldy mattress of MMO design.

Everyone is talking about the potential StarCraft MMO. Blizzard, in one of their 'Ahhhhhhh! No, not ahhhhhh!' moments has recently announced StarCraft II. Of course, everyone in MMOland who wants to see a StarCraft MMO has slaughtered the customary sacrificial ten rats, rummaged through their entrails and soothsaid that this is clearly the staging ground for the announcement of a StarCraft MMO. I can tell you that they're right, and I'm proud to be able to print a small excerpt from a design document, smuggled out from the depths of the Blizzard Empire:

Welcome to the great Terran refinery of Vespeneforge. In the centre of this great futuristic city are the fiery Plasma Drivers that power the Terran industry. Around this core, Terran crafters can be seen refining minerals and vespene gas and turning them into hundreds of utterly worthless objects such as Bronze Combat Pistols and Power Swords of the Monkey. The commerce ring, which surrounds the great plasma core, harbours all manner of goods vendors that players will just never visit because all the items they sell were too expensive to buy at level one, and are useless compared to their current gear at level two. However, it's a handy place to go if you ever find yourself in the need for Protoss cheese (just don't ask how they make it, but be sure that it involves bodily functions) or a Zerg burger (Mmmm, tastes like Terran!).

There's also the intergalactic financial trade house, where players can try to sell their otherworldly garbage, whilst dribbling over neon-purple weapons such as the Minerite Reaper, the mighty gun Raled'kohr or the legendary laser sword Cashbringer.

Travel between locations is swift: players can jump on an automated hover bike and let its autopilot take them to one of many pre-programmed destinations for a small fee. Later, when they've gained enough levels, players can purchase their own hover bike for greater freedom, and when they finally reach the level cap they'll have the option to buy an epic hover bike which goes a bit faster, has slightly fancier decals and more chrome trim. Travel between planets is simply a matter of waiting for a giant galactic barge, which arrive at the local space docks at regular intervals.

Players will be able to pick from a range of weird and wonderful classes, such as the Space Warrior, Galactic Doctor and Cosmic Psychic! Players can also participate in a number of excellent gathering professions, whether it be as a celestial herbalist harvesting space plants, or as an astro-miner gathering minerals with their laser pick...

Can't wait!

Tabula Rasa is obviously on the radar when it comes to the sci-fi MMO invasion's second wave, but will it do enough differently to make a difference, or is it going to rely on the fact that it's in a sci-fi setting to do most of the work? With the slightly more frenetic combat - sticky aiming reticules and such - it seems as though they're trying to change the dynamic of interaction with the game and move away from the standard fare. The thing that grates with me at the moment is Logos. Logos is magic. Logos is the guys there saying, "well we've got this wonderful sci-fi setting, we've added a few blasters in, but it's not fantastic enough. What we need is magic. Let's make something that isn't magic, but is really. I know, we'll call it Logos, which is like Legos, and everyone loves Legos, right?" Ok, nothing to do with Lego, I know. It's like someone found Arthur C. Clarke's three laws, got to number three - Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.- and thought, "Oh thank the lord! We were wondering how to crowbar magic into this game, and now we don't have to worry! Dave, see if Asimov came up with any laws that will allow us to cram some orcs and elves in too". Now I haven't played the game, so obviously I'm going on the titbits that have been dribbled out at various events, but from what I can tell, Logos is an arcane language that once learned will let characters perform weird and wonderful abilities, such as buff their team-mates and damage enemies. Sound familiar?

Logos sounds excellent as a game mechanic, but it just annoys me when RPGs (and PnP games are often as much at fault) try to force fantasy staples into a sci-fi setting. Why? It's sci-fi, for crying out loud. What, you don't think that there's enough potential for compelling, wondrous adventures without magic and orcs? You've got spaceships that you could craft like bases in CoH; ship-to-ship combat; planet invasions and mechs. Alien races; androids; cyborgs; power armour and mechs. Hover bikes; VTOL cars; teleporters and mechs. Lasers; phasers; tasers and light-sabre razors. Space stations; space nations; space crustaceans; mechs; rockets; electric sockets and blasters in your pockets. AI; VR; RSI; mechs; cyberspace; cybernaughts and cybershorts. With all this and more, in the name of the Spaghedeity, why do we need magic, elves and orcs in a sci-fi setting?

Oh, and mechs! Those lumbering platforms of shiny metal death. I forgot to mention those.

Shiny metal death? I think I just invented a new music category there. Take the smiley, happy banshee vocals of REM's Michael Stipe and place it over the thrashing guitar monstrosity that is Napalm Death. If that doesn't ruin a generation of music listeners, nothing will.


I would love to see a decent original sci-fi MMO (one that is slightly more accessible then EVE, although I do enjoy pootling around in that from time to time), but the reason I want to see one is not so much for the change of setting, as welcome and refreshing as that would be; no, the main reason I want to see a sci-fi MMO is that it might force developers to break the train of generic fantasy MMO staple that is being fed to us regularly with an ever so slightly different IP as back-story. City of Heroes took the comic book genre, made a game that was based on fitting in to that universe and made a great game that broke many of the foundations of MMO tradition. If you were to create a cartoon MMO, based in the ACME world of the Warner Brothers, say, it would be much easier to break the common themes that MMOs tend to share, and go for something original and wacky, which might in its construction reveal new ways to approach the idea of how to present MMOs to an ever expanding and diverse audience. The danger is that, in the RP world, most sci-fi has evolved from a fantasy setting, just look at Warhammer's 40k with its wonderful futuristic setting, and it's orcs, elves and dwarves. No, calling them Eldar and Squats does not make them a unique sci-fi race. Sorry.

If developers are going to reap the rewards of the sci-fi genre, they need to approach it from a sci-fi mindset, by reading the Asimovs and Arthur C. Clarkes and building a game around those settings, rather than taking Generic Fantasy Setting Number Six and trying to wedge a game into the mechanics that support that world.

And it should probably have mechs.

Or else.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Thought for the day.

Compare and contrast:

In quantum mechanics each electron must occupy its own energy state. When electrons are compressed together, as they are in a white dwarf, the number of available low energy states is too small and therefore numerous electrons are forced into high energy states. When this happens the electrons are said to be degenerate. The pressure caused by this effect is known as electron degeneracy pressure; it is the force that supports white dwarf stars against their own gravity, and because the pressure arises from this quantum mechanical effect it is insensitive to temperature.

In forum mechanics each poster must occupy their own outrage state. When posters are compressed together, as they are in a popular MMO forum, the number of available low outrage states is too small and therefore numerous posters are forced into high outrage states. When this happens the posters are said to be degenerate. The pressure caused by this effect is known as forum poster degeneracy pressure; it is the force that supports MMO forums against their own egos, and because the pressure arises from this forum mechanical effect it is insensitive to flames.

So there you go, conclusive proof that all those people who post nothing but bitter invective, trolls and flame-bait to forums are not only inevitable, but are actually preventing the forum from collapsing in on itself, forming a black hole and destroying the world!

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

It is a great art to saunter.

David: "Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome back to our coverage of the fourth international MMO Olympics. You join us here for the final of the Men's 100m Freestyle Saunter. I have to say the qualification event has seen some fierce competition, and it's a very exciting line up here of some of the great all-time MMO meanderers. Viewers out there will probably notice that there are only seven of the eight finalists present; unfortunately the Everquest entrant was disqualified after it was found that he was in fact being played by a power-strolling service."

Gordon: "I'm really looking forward to this, David. There are some top class professional amblers here. It takes real dedication to walk anywhere in the world of MMOs, and these are the cream. They really are at the height of ‘walking calmly and slowly’ to a destination. They've obviously been training hard for the event, I heard that the Vanguard player actually walked the entire length of a FedEx mission. Now that's hardcore."

David: "We're not allowed to call them hardcore, Gordon. They're Temporally Advantaged, in today's society."

Gordon: "Well I don't know anything about that. I have to say though, I'm also looking forward to the 4x100m Pick-Up-Group Relay later on this afternoon."

David: "Indeed it should be quite a spectacle, and the question on everyone's lips this year, as it is every year: will any group actually organise themselves quickly enough to get across the starting line?"

David: "Back to the current event though, they're approaching the starting line. And... they're off! Oh dear, a false start has been called."

Gordon: "I'm not sure what that was about, David, but it looks as though the Warcraft Hunter entry has been disqualified. Let's see what the video replay shows."

David: "Here's the start and... ah there we are, quite clearly just as the event starts the Hunter jumps in the air three, no, four times whilst spinning around 360 degrees in varying directions."

Gordon: "The crowd doesn't like it, David. Clear abuse of the laws of Newtonian physics and common decency, there."

David: "It's sad to see in this day and age of professional perambulatory jousting such a blatant disregard for Newton. Still, the remaining athletes having retaken their positions, and are under starter's orders."

David: "And they're off! It's a casual start by all, with the EVE player taking an early trail; they’re looking really very relaxed indeed."

Gordon: "Yes, it's a powerfully slow start by the EVE player, they're looking in great condition. I'm sure the confusion caused by suddenly having legs and being able to walk is definitely an advantage in maintaining a lackadaisical mosey.”

MMO Olympics. MMOO! I bet there are plenty of events for that one. I think I’d have to make the No Jump an event, where excitable players are fed caffeine-loaded beverages for an hour and then have to run their character up to a sand pit and not jump into it. Nor must they jump on the run up. Or on the way to the start of the run up. Or at the opening ceremony parade.

Or in their chairs at the PC. Even if they do need the toilet badly.

Running everywhere as a character in most MMOs is one of those things that we just accept as being a fundamental, unavoidable nature of the game. And we accept this because, in an ideal world, MMOs are first and foremost games. Entertainment. A bit of light relief from the drudgery of the day-to-day grind. A happy way to spend time, without bullies, cliques and social drama oppressing you. A way to escape from the irritating loons in life, who run down the street jumping every fourth step and spinning three hundred and sixty degrees improbably fast and really annoying the hell out of Newton...

Wait. I think I got a bit confused there.

I’ll come in again. MMOs are supposed to be games, and they can be, if taken at a casual level (we’re not allowed to call them casual, they’re Addictionally Challenged in today’s society - Ed.).

Did anyone just see an editor? Must be me. There’d better not be, I just had the house fumigated. “Editors coming in and editorialising your posts, eh mate? Yeah, they’re prone to do that, it’s in their nature you see. Don’t worry, a quick blast of this and we’ll have ‘em out. As an added bonus it’ll also get rid of any film critics in your wall cavities”.


There are those who don’t want to run everywhere: the stalwart RP crowd can be seen nobly and serenely wafting along; looking down on the hustle and bustle that goes on around them, as the piteous hoi polloi dash to and fro, getting things done. They calmly walk along. Making progress. Ever so slowly. Step follows rhythmic step. Until the moment that. They disappear. Behind. A. Wall. And then...

GO! GO! GO! Holy hindered speed, Snailman! Walking is so bloody slow! I’ve been online for an hour and I’ve only just made it to this wall, and I started right next to it! OUT OF MY WAY, I HAVE STUFF TO DO AND I’VE WASTED HALF THE EVENING WALKING. Oh crap, more people! Sod it. Yes, yes, I’m a role-player and I’m running. I’m role-playing someone needing to get something done in-game this evening before my wife wanders over and kicks me off the computer.

So yeah, you visit Lord of the Rings Online and travel to the town of Bree and everyone is running around like nutters! It’s like the Martians have invaded. Except it’s Lord of the Rings, so they don’t have Martians. But they have marshes... Marshians. That’ll do. And so you’ve got this fantastic contrast, with all these NPCs standing absolutely still, and all these Player Characters barrelling around like freight trains. Maybe that’s why NPCs stand so still: they’re all trying to move, it’s just that they take a step forward and vroom they’re nearly mown down by a Player Character. So they jump back in shock, gather themselves and then tentatively take a step forward vroooooom, neeeowww, zooooootfrooooot, as a stream of Player Characters hurtles past.

Ok, they don’t do the last one, that isn’t a speedy noise. I just ran out of speedy noises.

And what would it be like if they implemented collision detection in an MMO? MMO developers, make use of all those shiny Ageia PhysX cards and have character collisions with Newtonian reactions! It would be like the Keystone Cops. On fast forward. After you’ve smoked a lot of special herbs.

There’s no getting around it, if you’re not a Super Hero with amazing travel powers like Metro Man and his all-day travel card, or you’re just stuck in a vehicle most of the time like the Auto Assault and EVE players, running around non-stop with no penalty whilst carrying half the world on your back is just another one of those vastly weird but quintessential MMO quirks.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Thought for the day.

Why are there no female dwarves in evidence in Lord of the Rings Online?

Picture a male dwarf without a beard; picture them instead with two beards, plaits and all, one hanging from each armpit.

Now picture them in a chain-mail bikini and thong.


Wednesday, 13 June 2007

It's standing procedure.

Harold: "Morning."

Samantha: "Morning!"

Harold: "You're new here aren't you?"

Samantha: "Yup, just added with the latest patch."

Harold: "Oh! Well, welcome to town, it's always nice to see fresh faces."

Samantha: "Thanks! I must say, I'm all fired-up and ready, I've been on the NPC orientation day, got my Quest Givers pack right here. So what're you up to today?"

Harold: "Weeeelll, I thought I'd do a bit of standing around."

Samantha: "Standing around?"

Harold: "Yup, just standing. I like a bit of standing, me. In fact, that's pretty much all we do here in town. Stand, absolutely motionless. If one of those free-roaming adventurer types happens to run up to you, you can give them a quest to do."

Samantha: "Oh. Right."

Harold: "Make sure they run right up to you though; if they're more than two feet away, don't speak to them. It's our little game, keeps them on their toes."

Samantha: "Why?"

Harold: "Well, they're allowed to run around freely, enjoy the fresh air, get a change of scenery. Meanwhile, we're all stuck here, on the same spot, day after day. So we make sure they have to do as much running as possible; Arnold over there came up with the FedEx mission archetype one day, that one spread through the NPC ranks like wildfire. We had those adventurers running all over the land. That'll teach 'em!"

Samantha: "So... we just stand here?"

Harold: "Yup. Why, what were you expecting?"

Samantha: "Well, the NPC brochure made it sound a bit more dynamic."

Harold: "Oh, there are more dynamic NPCs. You know, some of us get to move around."

Samantha: "Really? Oh that sounds more like my sort of thing."

Harold: "Oh yes. Sometimes, you get to move over to a barrel, and put an item in it. Graham over there gets to put some seeds in that planting pot behind him every now and again, when an adventurer's quest requires it. Alright Graham!"

Graham: "Kill me."

Harold: "Ha ha, don't mind Graham, he's been here since Beta so he's probably just got a bit of cramp. You took out your KSA insurance, right?"

Samantha: "KSA?"

Harold: "Deary me, what are they teaching at NPC school these days? Knee, Shin and Ankle insurance: you're going to be standing on that spot, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, for several years at least. The only time we get a break is when they take the server down for maintenance. Isn't that right Graham?"

Graham: "I can't feel anything below my nipples."

Harold: "Ha, ha. That's our Graham, always looking on the bright side."

Samantha: "B...bright side?!"

Harold: "Well, if you can't feel your legs anymore you're one of the lucky ones! The excruciating torturous pain is gone; it's one of the perks of years of service. And anyway, you probably couldn't move even if you wanted to, the legs become locked and the knee joints fuse after about six months. So get your standing position right, make sure your legs are a comfortable distance apart, because it won't be long before they're stuck like it."

Samantha: "But I want to move around! Why can't I move?!"

Harold: "Why can't you move around? Why can't you move around?! How would the poor adventurers find you then? Those poor simpletons would have to look for you; go asking other people in the area where they'd last seen you; maybe even have to use some brain power to deduce where you might be, based on the time of day and your profession, say. We can't have that! Their lives are hard enough, what with all the running around and killing defenceless animals for huge piles of gold and equipment."

Samantha: "But the animals move around!"

Harold: "Oh deary me, you really are fresh from the NPC propaganda machine aren't you? No, no, no. It's just not done; you can't have NPCs moving around in some sort of semblance of life, it would be chaos. You can't make things that are involving and dynamic, adventurers don't like it. They much prefer us to stand on the same spot, barely moving, for time immemorial.".

Harold: "Anyway, think yourself lucky that you're indoors. Ok, so you'll never get to see the sky again, but at least you're not stuck out in the elements all year round!"

Samantha: <runs off screaming>

Harold: "Here! You can't go running around like that, what if an adventurer needs to bring you some rabbit intestines in exchange for gold? I dunno, this new generation of NPCs are becoming more rebellious by the day. Wasn't that way back in our day. Time was that we'd be like a statue, a quest and loot vending machine in the shape of a humanoid. Isn't that right Graham?"

Graham: "I've never been to the toilet, you know."

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Thought for the day.

Conversations you never hear from PCs in the starter area of a game:

"Mum, I don't wanna be a hero! I don't want to go risking myself in battle, facing demons, travelling for miles a day and defending cities from tyranny, all with the risk of dying alone on some foreign field. I just want a quiet life, here on the farm with Harriot the pig and Donald the goose and my herb garden.

Look, there are thousands of heroes out there already! I mean, you can barely get into the village for all the heroes running around with their flashy abilities and armour and their bags full of various animal entrails that they give to random strangers. Heroes are a dime a dozen around here. I thought I'd just stay in the village and write down my thoughts about the world; you know, philosophise a bit about the meaning of it all.

What I'm trying to say is... I'm an NPC, Mum. A bystander! A quest-giver! I'm one of those immobile, nondescript, cash-laden, monologuing, storyline providers. I'm a Loot Font, Mum, and proud of it!

Which reminds me, Kenneth and I are going on an NPC Pride march in an hour and I probably won't be back for tea."

FedEx, fed up.

We join our brave adventurer as he arrives at the house of Norom the Confounding with an ancient voluminous tome, which he discovered on the corpse of a small swamp slug. As you do.

Norom the Confounding: "I'm not sure what this is, can you take it to Haddockar on the other side of the world to find out."

Adventurer: "It's a tome."

Norom: "Pfff. Just take it to Haddockar, he'll know what it is."

<Five hours and three hundred crap animal attacks later>

Haddockar: "It's a tome."

<Seven hours, two hundred crap animal attacks and a wrong turn into the Tomb of Pain and Instant Death, later>

Adventuerer: "Haddockar says, it's a tome."

Norom: "A tome you say? Well, let's take look then! Hmm, I can't read it, you'll have to take it to Codur to decode the strange script."

Adventurer: "I can read that language. It's in dwarven runes. I'm a dwarf."

Norom: "Pfff. Just take it to Codur, he'll know what it says."

Adventurer: <mumbles> "It says you're a %#*!"

Norom: "Sorry?"

Adventurer: "Nothing."

<Five hours, one thousand crap animal attacks, a wrong turn and two hours running around the maze of paths in the Forest of Convenient Tree Formations (where there are huge swathes of open space that form a convenient path, until the point you need to go somewhere, and then suddenly there are only walls of trees that have grown so incredibly close together that you can't quite squeeze past. CONVENIENT), later>

Adventurer: "Norom wants you to translate this."

Codur: "Hmmm, they're dwarven runes."

Adventurer: "I know."

Codur: "You can read these, you're a dwarf."

Adventurer: "Really? I hadn't noticed. My beard must have got in the way."

Codur: "Stop wasting my time and take this back to Norom."

<Seven hours, two lag deaths, three drownings, four tickets for speeding and a wrong turn into the Cavern of Lazy Location Design Filled With Elite Mobs, later>

Adventurer: "Codur says that I can translate it."

Norom: "You can translate it eh? Well, have read and tell me what it says."

Adventurer: <mumbles> "It says you're a %#*!"

Norom: "Sorry?"

Adventurer: "It says that we shall find the Immortal Songblade of Nefronggrevat by following its instructions."

Norom: "Immortal Songblade, you say?"

Adventurer: "Yes."

Norom: "Of Nefronggrevat, you say?"

Adventurer: "Uh huh."

Norom: "Never heard of it. Take this to the librarian and get him to find us information about the blade."

Adventurer: "And where, pray tell is the librarian? How many miles, through rabid creatures and mud and biting insects and ogre camps, over mountains and through canyons must I travel to reach this librarian."

Norom: "He's standing right beside me."

Librarian: "Hi!"

<Looks at Librarian. Looks at Norom.>

Adventurer: "Can't you just ask him yourself?"

Norom: "Noooo. No. No. No. No. Yeaaaaaaaaa... no."

Adventurer: "Norom wants a book detailing the Immortal Songblade of Nefronggrevat."

Librarian: "I'm delighted to inform you that I just happen to have a copy on me now. Here you go friend, give this to Norom."

<Looks at Norom. Looks at Librarian>

<Beats them both to death with the book>

Congratulations! You have reached level 2!

Monday, 4 June 2007

The world inside MMO bags.

Bags are big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big bags actually are. Outer space is nothing compared to the inside of an adventurer's backpack (with apologies to Douglas). The wondrous thing is that - even though players are allowed to equip not one but many of these hugely incomprehensible, vastly improbable and wholly fantastical containers of every otter spleen and troll bunion that you grab as you roam the lands - the biggest complaint about bags is that they don't have enough space.

The humble bag is the stalwart companion of adventurers everywhere, yet it goes unloved and unnoticed. Unnoticed, that is, until the day the adventurer needs to pick up that ultra-rare epic item and finds that they don't have any bag space.

The Encyclopaedia Melmothia states that the average adventuring bag contains 16 slots, of which one slot can contain any item, up to and including an armoured chest piece. Let's take a very rough estimate of a solid plate chest piece as being 1.5ft x 1.5ft x 0.5ft in size, or 1.125ft^3. Assuming perfect stacking, we can fit sixteen of these in a backpack without air gaps between them, so that's a volume of 18ft^3 for the backpack or approximately 510 litres. There's a special place in the Inferno for those of you checking my calculations in order to nitpick some minor mistake in this stupid example. Now, the bigger, more ludicrously sized real world backpacks that I could find from a brief search on Google were between 200-300 litres. So your average adventurer is carrying a pack which is about twice the size of that. Actually I'm wrong: adventurers are generally carrying four or more of these bags, which is about 2039 litres, or enough space in which to park a good size family saloon car.

Why is it that you can't put items into a bag that is currently being carried in another bag? Well, imagine the potential recursion there, it's like 'crossing the streams' of a pair of proton packs: if you could put items into a bag that was already in your inventory the first thing you'd do is fill your sixteen slot bag with sixteen slot bags; each of those bags could hold more bags, until eventually you'd have enough space to hold the entire world, at which point it would rip a hole in the fabric of space-time, opening a portal into the dark recesses of the cosmic nether, from whence Beryl Reid will come forth and dance the seven steps of chaos that will bring about the fiery doom of the universe.

Could happen.

Curiously, to my knowledge, nobody has considered the concept of 'bags as weapons'. Considering the cubic volume that each slot of a bag can contain, all the budding Lord of All Destruction need do is fill each slot with iridium. The bag is now so heavy that, assuming they could find a trebuchet powerful enough to fire it, it would not just breach a castle's walls, but entirely obliterate it and several miles of surrounding countryside. And that's just a two slot ladies purse... Find a trebuchet powerful enough to overcome the planet's gravitational pull on your main backpack, and you would cave-in half a continent with a crater to rival that of the Barringer Meteor. The strange thing is that in many games these adventurers, being of that stock that can perform heroic feats, can carry these backpacks around without batting an eyelid. So all they need to do is run up to the top of the cliff (for they can run everywhere when carrying that weight) and leap off, cannonball style into the castle beneath. Judges award extra marks for style and crater depth.

So don't let me hear you complain about 'falling damage' either, because technically when you jumped off that small hillock, you shouldn't so much have landed as plummeted, thundering through the planet's crust on your way to the core.

Technically, with that volume of space, you could get inside your own bag. You'd only take up a couple of slots, and then all your friends could carry you around! Better still, you could all get in, take a slot each, stick a couple of wheels on and you've got yourself a mode of transport. Just whip out that horse you conveniently keep in a slot in your handbag, attach some reins and away you go.

Slots themselves are curious defiers of the nature of space: some items such as potions will stack, such that you can carry enough in a single slot that it would probably match the volume of our example chest piece, but then some seemingly random small items, such as fish eyeballs, won't stack. Thus you have an entire slot taken up by something that would comfortably fit up your own nostril. Yes, it would fit comfortably. No, don't ask me how I know this. It seems strangely accepted throughout the MMO world that you can have a sixteen slot bag full of sixteen pieces of heavy plate armour, or the same sixteen slot bag full of sixteen fish eyeballs.

Bags are curiosities for sure.

So next time you run out of space in your bags, remember, you're actually getting a pretty good deal in general, and if you continue to complain then Beryl Reid will come and smack you with her handbag.

And you don't want to know how many slots that thing has.