Friday, 21 September 2007

Hey! Teacher!

It's curious how the nefarious population of City of Villains has a university; the game mechanic of the university is to give characters a place to learn about and participate in the recently introduced crafting system. Clearly the developers work on the hero side first and then transfer as much of the effort as possible directly into CoV, converting any glaringly obvious heroic insinuations.

One wonders, though, what a villain university or school would be like...

"Johnson, did you do your homework again? What is the matter with you boy? If you carry on completing coursework and paying attention in class you'll find yourself out of this university before you can blink, and then you'll probably have to get a job wearing spandex and helping old grannies get their cats out of trees. Is that what you want?"

"Right! Who was that? Come on, own up, which one of you wasn't throwing paper planes behind my back? Someone wasn't throwing them, I can tell. It was you was it, Packard? Well, as a punishment you can go and help old people cross the road for a day. Actually make that two days, because I'm fed-up with you owning up to your crimes, a good villain doesn't own up to anything. Are you some sort of pansy hero, Packard? Right! Three! Three days, because you're not even arguing with me over the point. Go on, get out!"

"You! You behind the bike sheds. Stand still, laddie! Right, now, why aren't you smoking? Explain yourself!"

"Well, Franklin, apparently you've been bullying young Thatcher here and stealing his lunch money. What? Oh I'm not punishing you for stealing the money, Franklin. No. But you see, Thatcher tells me that you've been failing to steal all of his money, that he's been keeping some of it hidden from you. You're a slacker Franklin, so you can be in detention this evening. Top snitching there Thatcher, you can have a house point."

"Evening everyone. First order of this detention session: you're all in further detention for bothering to turn up to this one."

Monday, 17 September 2007


The voluble Elf has tagged me, and I can never resist a jolly good memeing, especially from friends.

Four jobs I have had in my life (not including my current job):

  • Level 37 sandwich filling crafter.

  • Level 14 filing clerk.

  • Level 17 office furniture installer.

  • Level 21 teacher's assistant.

All summer jobs I'm afraid; I've been at my current job since, well, forever really.

Four films I have watched again and again:

  • V for Vendetta.

  • Gladiator.

  • The Fellowship of the Ring.

  • Valmont.

Like most people, I expect, there are several more films I could list here, so I've tried to pick a representative sample.

Four places I have lived:

  • Leeds, England.

  • Various places

  • In the county of

  • Kent, England.

I lived in Leeds when I went to university there. Other than that, I've stayed pretty close to home.

Four Programmes I love to watch:

  • Battlestar Galactica.

  • Heroes.

  • Firefly.

  • The Mighty Boosh.

Again, there are plenty of others both new and old, but this is a set of those that I've watched relatively recently and enjoyed tremendously.

Four Places I have been on vacation:

  • Hawaii.

  • Dubai.

  • Venice.

  • San Francisco.

I think San Francisco is still my favourite place, although Venice is a close second.

Four of my favourite foods:

  • Beef Wellington.

  • Risotto.

  • Saffron cake.

  • Gypsy tart.

I like food. This is barely a pebble on the peak of the food mountain of my victual desires.

Four favourite drinks:

  • Port (Warre's Otima is divine).

  • Tea.

  • Bitter (Waggledance is a favourite).

  • Elderflower cordial/juice.

This makes me sound like a drunkard fop. Which might be accurate.

Four places I would rather be right now:

  • In a cottage in the Lake District, writing a book.

  • On a manned mission to Mars.

  • Diving in the Red Sea.

  • On stage at Shakespeare's Globe.

And I'd also like a pony.

Four People I Command to Do This:

Not so much command, as extend the embracing arm of memefulness. I'm only allowed four, so I've tried to pick people who haven't been tagged and have commented here. Apologies to anyone who might have wanted to do it. And apologies to those tagged who don't want to do it. Maybe you can all get together, swap out the people who don't want to do it with those who do, and then send fax confirmation in triplicate to me, and I... ah bugger it, it's just a meme.

As the wise Yoda once said:

"Do, or do not. I don't give a toss, and I'll be dead in the next installment anyway."

Or something.


It was a fairly humdrum weekend in the Melmoth household with respect to gaming. I continued to level my 'Thief of' characters in City of Comicbookclichés, but singularly failed to meet any of the fellows of our super-group over the weekend; there is an indicator in the super-group window of when people had last played their character, and it seems that we've all been active at one time or another in the same day but never at the same time. Perhaps we need to implement a Justice Calendar which, when attached to the Freedom Fridge with the Magnet of Emancipation, would schedule crime fighting in a single badly scrawled entry.

"Batman, remember we're fighting the Joker tonight at 7pm. Love and kisses, Robin."

"Appointment with Dr Doom at 4.30pm. Remember to take stool sample. To fling at him. Johnny."


Soloing in CoH is manageable, but the real fun comes from teaming with others. Extra bonus fun points if those people are competent folk whom you know, rather than pick-up group nutters.

In a fit of desperately wanting to play a bearded dwarf with a big axe and adventure in strange forested lands where orcs roam, I once again subscribed to Lord of the Rings Online for a month to see if I could get back into that. After a installing the game from the disks and then downloading and patching several gargantuan updates, my kilt-wearing dwarf was once more smoking a pipe in the Prancing Pony and enjoying the role-playing atmosphere:

"And he said. And then she said. And then he said that she said."

"Hello! U looks nice, wanna come back to my room??????/"

"Lord Darkbrooding looks brooding. And dark. In a cool dark and brooding way."

"And I said to them 'you're not in our special club of very excellent people' and then I stabbed them."

"Arrgghh! I'm covered in bees!"

That last one was me after five minutes of listening to 'deep' and 'meaningful' discussions: always be sure to throw in random Eddie Izzard quotes to liven the incredibly oppressive atmosphere of role-playing environs. It's the law.

I picked-up play with my dwarf guardian who is in his late twenties, and made my way to the North Downs since I had a few solo quests there; I had considered diving straight into a pick-up group in one of the instances available to my character at that level, but thought that perhaps spending a few minutes learning what all those buttons on the screen were for was perhaps the more sensible course of action. After many, many minutes of meanderings, like some sort of peripatetic loot basket, I finally reached the fields of Fornost where I had been charged with the task of killing bears. Oh well, I guess it's fractionally better than boars; I recalled shortly thereafter that I killed boars in the previous quest. Sigh. Four minutes of running around like a loon trying to find bears found my character stuck on a seemingly moderate slope in the landscape; a known bug, that one would think would have been fixed by now. The only way to escape the jaws of the adventurer-grasping landscape is to use the /stuck command which returns you to your last bound point, in my case the Prancing Pony where I started off some thirty minutes of faffing around ago. There was nothing to do but to type /stuck and wait to warp all the way back to where I started. Whilst I waited for the unstuckness to occur (for which there was no countdown timer to be seen) a mob decided to spawn nearby; a ranged mob, who immediately decided that I looked like fair game, and started plinking away at my health bar. I could do nothing in the meantime, other than spin on the spot in a manner which I hoped conveyed my extreme anger and annoyance at this cowardly attack, in some fanciful effort to convince the mob that attacking me was going to lead to its painful demise just as soon as I'd taken the ten minutes to run back to where it was. It was now a race, with the stuck command ticking away in the background, would it trigger before the mob finished me off? Was the stuck command even working? Maybe I'd mistyped it, and I wasn't in fact about to escape at all. I went to type the command again to make sure, but was then struck by the thought that this might reset the timer, if it was indeed counting down, and thus leaving me with longer to wait before death or unstuckness took hold. It was while I was in the grip of the complex moral decision of whether to type the stuck command again or just bugger it all and go and get a packet of crisps, that I warped back to the Prancing Pony with a modest fraction of health left. Faced with the run all the way back to the fields of Fornost or logging off and eating crisps until everything started to take on the semblance of potato, I took the salty baked saturated fat option.

Suffice it to say that the above experience didn't sate my need to get all medieval dwarf on some critters' arses, so I popped my head back into World of Warcraft, rolled a dwarf alt and burned through the first ten levels of content there. Ahhhhhh. Those first ten levels in World of Warcraft are the salty baked saturated fat taste sensation of the MMO levelling world, high in monosodium glutamate and everything.

Other than that, the weekend was predominantly taken up with doing Other Things. Reading, catching up on various TV series that I have on DVD, and generally not sitting at my computer for four or five hours straight. I hope a decent MMO hits the stores soon, because otherwise I might get used to this variety which is spicing up the grand MMO of Life and find it more addictive than playing any virtual grind. Heck, next weekend I plan on taking a look at this thing that you Earth people call 'outside'.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Be wary of men wielding dead languages.

I hadn't really thought about preparing a review for Tabula Rasa because reviews from several other bloggers are already out there, and say pretty much all there is to say; if I were going to write about the game I'd try to put a humorous spin on it, but I'm afraid that I'm not seeing one. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of jokes to be had, but they're not the light-hearted ribbings that belong here.

I was, however, listening to the ol' iPodule this morning, and the lyrics to one of the songs became slightly warped in my mind - Warped mind? Me? - and seemed apt:

Lost in time I can't count the words,
I said when I thought they went unheard
All of those harsh thoughts so unkind,
'cos I wanted you.

And now I sit here, I'm all alone,
So here sits a bloody mess, tears fly home,
A circle of errors, seen before,
'cos I wanted you.

Weak as I am, won't sub. to you.
Weak as I am, won't sub. to you.
Deep as I am, I'm no-one's fool.
Weak as I am.

-- The 'Inferno review of Tabula Rasa' version of Weak, by Skunk Anansie

They touted Tabula Rasa as a blank slate, as in a fresh start; what they seemed to forget is that Tabula Rasa is also the new mind in its primary state, before it receives any of the impressions and understanding gained from experience.

Tabula Rasa indeed, then.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Thought for the day.

If real life had an MMO UI overlaid, what would it look like to you? How would it affect your life?

  • I'd probably have low health, but high mana.

  • My bag slots would be nearly full all the time.

  • Most slots would be taken up with chargers for electronic devices.

  • I'd be able to scroll back through previous conversations with my boss and prove that I didn't agree to work thirty hours of overtime this week, or any week for that matter.

  • Never be caught short! I would know exactly when I was next going to need to go to the toilet based on that ability's cool-down.

  • Based on the tooltip information from the debuff icons present, I would be able to tell exactly what illness I was suffering from and instruct the doctor accordingly.

  • People wouldn't be able to sneak up on me because I would see them approaching on my mini-map.

  • My bank balance would be available, so I'd always know if I could afford to buy that shiny new gadget. Not that that stops me at the moment.

  • Road rage incidents could be avoided as you'd be able to con other drivers nearby.

  • If someone fell over in front of you, you'd know whether they'd hurt themselves badly by the small text number floating up the centre of your vision.

  • You'd never lose the kids on a family outing, because you'd see their group portrait fade when they went out of range, and you could find them by highlighting said portrait and following the big friendly arrow at the top of your vision.

  • Hand-written shopping lists would be a thing of the past: just follow the quest objectives in your tracker

  • Sex would become slightly more mundane, as you'd know when the magic moment was going to happen by watching your cast bar. However, women would have a harder time faking because men could 'enable enemy cast bar'.

  • If your wife sees you smirk at that last one, you would at least have a pop-up option that allowed you to resurrect at the nearest shrine...

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world.

MMOs employ many different ways to mitigate damage: parrying, shield blocks, genuine evasion and armour-based resistances are but some of the examples. However, nearly all MMOs still also make use of the ancient and mystical Chinese technique of Open Palm Lotus, Forehead Dragon Slap.

Or in mundane terms: attacking any space that is immediately adjacent to your opponent. The dreaded miss.

<Our noble barbarian hero. Rethgood the Redolent, is sneaking up to stab an unsuspecting, sleeping ogre lord in the back>

Rethgood: "Ha haaaaah! Your head will be mine, ogre lord!"

<Rethgood swings his sword and misses>

Rethgood: "I missed?! But I'm the greatest swordsmith in the land! I, who hath duelled Rodderick the Really Rather Good Swordwangler of Popthekettleon, and won! I, who bested Fiona the Fierce of Frangipane, the greatest sword fighter the world had ever witnessed until I found the miniscule gap in her chain-mail bikini that enabled me to strike the bronzed body beneath! I, who..."

Ogre Lord: "Og, yuk, ders a ooman in me snoozechamber! Ow it get in dis place? Wurz me slipper so I cuhn squidge it."

Rethgood: "How can I possibly miss from melee range against a prone target? Never mind, I shall not miss you a second time you filthy beast!"

<Rethgood swings and misses again>

Rethgood: "By the seven gods of the Vitamin Sea! Another miss?! What fel magic is this?"

Ogre Lord: "Stop yer flailin about ooman, yer creatin a draft."

Rethgood: "Stay still, damn you."

Ogre Lord: "I not move from me bed yet, wat you talkin about clooliss?"

<Rethgood swings. And misses.>

Rethgood: "I don't understand... how can I miss? I'm standing close enough to smell whatever it is that's living in your belly button..."

Ogre Lord: "Ey! You leave Charles out of dis."

Rethgood: "You have a creature living in your belly button, and it's called Charles?"

Charles: "Will you keep the noise down out there; some people are trying to meditate."

Ogre Lord: "Don you mind der ooman, Charlie, I'm gonna sort im out."

Rethgood: "I can't take much more of this; I pray to the iron god of Monopylae to guide my sword to strike swift and true!"

<Rethgood swings. The ogre lord leaps from the bed>

Rethgood: "There! You definitely moved!"

Ogre Lord: "Weeeellllll, you waz gonna hit me dat time."

<Ogre lord smacks Rethgood upside the head, yo, for 200 points of damage>

The miss becomes more absurd the bigger the enemy. How can you miss a fifty foot tall mountain giant? Admittedly you're not going to be doing a lot of damage. Shouldn't be doing a lot of damage, but that's never stopped role-playing games from pitting adventurers against monsters eight times their size or more, and letting them win. Does an adventuring party of five bees ever reasonably stand a chance of defeating a human being? I mean, they've got envenomed weapons, the power of flight, various fear spells that they can cast (such as Bernard's Aural Harasser of Humming Just Behind Your Ear), yet we still know that unless they get some, quite frankly, munchkin-maddeningly awesome combination of crit rolls, or they just happen to find a mob with a serious weakness to bee stings (I knew I should have worked on bee sting resistance instead of fire and nature), they're not going to win. But adventurers defeating fifty foot tall giants? No problem! Hell, in some games dwarves - dwarves! - make a profession out of slaying giants! What in the Inferno sort of tactics do they use to accomplish this? If you've ever seen Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay's dwarven Giant Slayers you'll know that they not only pit themselves against creatures ten times their own height, but they do this whilst wearing minimal armour and wielding a small twig. Or something. So how do they defeat giants who are, by their very nature, really quite big. Gigantic, if you will. Do they train in assassination through toenail clipping? "Ha, I've given him a nasty subungual hematoma there, if he doesn't get any medication for a month, and infection just happens to set in, he could die within the year! Or perhaps just lose the toe. Still: For Karak Kadrin! And all that, old bean". Yeah, I like to mix frothing dwarven battle-cries alongside eccentric upper-class English phrases, it really puts your fellow adventurers off guard.

The point being, as alien and unexpected as a 'point' is to any of my blog posts, ignoring the improbability of being able to do enough damage to cause the giant to stop picking his nose and peer down at you, missing any monster that has toes the size of a farm outbuilding is not really terribly reassuring. You literally, although virtually, missed the side of a barn. And you want to be a great adventuring hero? Hmmm.

So, what if an adventuring party is fighting together and one of the melee players misses a mob, does he not then have to roll to see if he hits one of his fellows who are in melee with him? The friendly-fire roll, if you will. And if he misses them as well, then surely it follows that he then has to roll to see if he chops off his own head due to missing everything else in the immediate vicinity. And in the vastly improbable event that he misses that roll too, well, then perhaps a horde of small animals should burst out from all corners of the battlefield and laugh for two seconds in the manner of Chip 'n Dale the Walt Disney chipmunks, disappearing quickly thereafter.

The problem is that in MMO combat you generally stand still, the mob stands still, and you both stand toe-to-toe and slog it out until one of you is dead; you don't aim in combat, you select which character to attack and then your aiming is represented by a dice roll. A dice roll is all you have to express the dynamism of combat, and the on-screen representation is two figures standing next to each other, swinging their weapons in one or two animations over and over again in a stunningly mundane battle of attrition. Seeing that combat is such a staple of MMOs, that the main focus of questing and levelling invariably involves running some form of virtual life through with your virtual sword, one would think that an obvious way to break away from the pack and make a name for yourself would be to try to crack the mould on the tried, tested and tedious method of combat as it exists today. We can all accept mobs dodging out of the way, but considering currently how close the melee player is generally standing to them, and the fact that neither of you is moving much, I can't help but imagine that it's perhaps the sort of dodging that you see in cartoons, where the character bends improbably at the midriff and forms a question mark shape to one side of the blade thrust, and then flips and bends in the opposite direction at the next blade thrust, which cuts the air where the dodger's body was moments ago.

City of Heroes is especially hilarious because it animates your misses whilst making no attempt to animate the enemy having evaded, so you can stand right next to a mob, shoot a bolt of fire from your hands at point blank range, and it shoots off at an improbable angle into the ceiling. I can only imagine that those superhero outfits are really quite itchy, and just as my hero is about to launch their bolt of flaming death (that's not a euphemism by the way) they get an irresistible urge to scratch somewhere sensitive and tender, and therefore flail about shooting flame everywhere other than at the enemy as they try to contend with their own spectacular spandex spasms. With the collateral damage that heroes must cause with all their powers missing and striking the floors, walls and ceilings, you can imagine that insurance premiums in Paragon City are astronomical in value. What's more, you can simply miss the most blatantly easy targets; only last night a fellow spandex wearer was heard to utter "I can't believe I just missed a stationary parked car".

The dilemma is such: if, like World of Warcraft, you make it easy for new players to hit mobs so that the game is fast and fun and painless, they will have an expectation that they will always be able to do so, and the strange phenomenon that as their hero increases in power they are more likely to meet mobs that they are unable to hit seems to be incongruous with their experiences up to that point. If, however, you take the route that City of Heroes takes, that your low level character will miss, and miss quite a lot, but will gain in power until they are practically unable to miss even if they try, the early game experience can be very frustrating to the new player who may not understand that things will improve eventually, and it is therefore quite likely to put players off of the game entirely.

Perhaps all that needs to be done is to remove the 'miss' from areas where it is inappropriate due to its vast improbability, when in melee combat or using ranged powers at close quarters, for example. Considering that most MMO combat is now, and will likely be for the foreseeable future, based upon the fickle fling of fate's fancy, rather than any skill on the part of the player, it would be nice to present that combat in such a way as to not make the player regularly experience the most base helplessness that comes from a fumbled attack roll.

And it should be fixed soon, lest the armies of barn walls become confident in their power to evade attacks, and march upon the homelands of these floundering fighters and destroy them every one!

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Nemesis of the sock thief.

Unlike the mild mannered Thief of Socks, whose light-hearted removal of Joe Blogger's socks means that Joe is merely left with an odd pair and looks a bit daft when he goes out on a date, the dark-hearted Thief of Keys hides your car keys at the most inconvenient time, when you're most in a panic and need to get somewhere fast; at other times the key thief will cause you to believe you've misplaced your front door key, especially when you're standing on your doorstep, cross-leggedly in need of a pee.

Oooo, he's evil.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Thought for the day.

World of Religions Online: a new faction based MMO.

Coming to every gamer's place of worship soon.