Wednesday, 31 October 2007

The gospel according to St. Dev.

1: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2: And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the forums were awash with complaints that the darkness was too dark, and that this was an outrage.
3: And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4: And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And the forums were split into the people who would play light and the people who would continue to play dark anyway, and the players of light complained that the players of dark were going to be miserable PKers, and the players of dark complained that the players of light were going to be too powerful and should be nerfed.
5: And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the forums filled with criticism about the names, and that they sucked and nobody would play a game with 'day' and 'night' in it. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
6: And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
7: And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
8: And God called the firmament Heaven. And the forums overflowed with speculation on what heaven was and how it would affect those game mechanics of day and night. And the players of light claimed it as their home zone, which the players of dark objected to vehemently, and proposed their own zone which they didn't know what the hell to call. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
9: And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
10: And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. But the forums erupted in complaints that the travel times would be too long, and nobody could get from one dry land to the other because there was no way to cross the sea, and the complaints were so great that God had to lock several threads.
11: And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
12: And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
13: And the forums said that the design was flawed based upon their speculation that seeds must be some kind of impossibly difficult boss mob and that having them all across the land would make their lives a nightmare and that it was clearly an outrage. And the evening and the morning were the third day.
14: And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
16: And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
17: And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
18: And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
19: And the forums for the players of the dark exploded in outrage, that this was clearly favouring the light and could not be tolerated. Many threats to leave and never even play in the beta were levelled. And the players of light lold at the players of dark and proffered that they should QQ more. And God had to go back and redesign huge parts of the system to try and balance the dark by adding special matter to the universe. And the evening and the morning were the many, many, many sodding days of wasted effort.
20: And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
21: And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
22: And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
23: And the forums complained that the spawn times were too restrictive and that they would consume all the resources too quickly. And there were many complaints about the name 'whales', and also as to why this was the only creature name to have been revealed so far. And wild speculations abounded as to what whales were. And the names of other creatures were made-up. And God had to release information about haddock and jellyfish and krill and dolphins and seals. And then he had to spend days explaining and mollifying forum posters who couldn't understand why whales and dolphins and seals would breath air when they live in the sea. And the evening and the morning were several days spent heavily drinking and smoking.
24: And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
25: And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. But the forums were filled with complaints that lions were too overpowered and should be balanced, and crocodiles shouldn't be allowed to travel so fast on land and in the water. And many, many complaints were levelled at the point of wasps, because they were rubbish and caused the players great pain for no reason. And God spent several weeks redesigning and reworking beasts, and created bees to replace wasps, but then forgot to take wasps out anyway because he was tired after pulling one too many all-nighters.
26: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. And the forums went super-nova over this new epic class and how overpowered it was going to be, with it's dominion over everything. And the forums speculated that man must be able to run faster than a cheetah, swim faster than a shark, fly higher than an eagle and be stronger than a bear. And the forums whined and whinged and complained that God should nerf this class otherwise they would never buy the game ever! And God decided to delay the open beta and said that he would rework the player classes to cope with these problems.
27: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And now the forums complained that the two epic classes weren't similar enough, and the female players complained that the male players were overpowered and the male players complained that the females had better character creation options.
28: Nevertheless God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And still the forums were filled with whines and complaints and bitter unreasoning anguish.
29: And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat, what more do you want you ungrateful gits. And the forums filled with moans that this made the game easy mode, and that there would be no challenge now, and they would never play such a game.
30: And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
31: And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very, very late. And the evening and the morning were the six hundredth day.
32: Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And forums were filled with community managers to stem the tide of outraged and unconstructive whinges from beta players and God worked on bug fixes and other things that he hadn't had time to finish, but he still never got around to fixing the duck-billed platypus.
33: And on the seven hundredth day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seven hundredth day from all his work which he had made.
34: And God blessed the seven hundredth day, and sanctified it: because he could finally get some rest and would not have to listen to all those pathetic whiners again until he made the first expansion.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Some people say that cats are sneaky, evil, and cruel.

I was enjoying a nice cup of tea and a good book the other day when I was assaulted by my cat - jumping from out of that ethereal plane which only cats can inhabit, allowing them to sneak upstairs without you seeing or, as in this case, leap seemingly out of nowhere from just behind your head, legs gathered together as if performing a tuck dive but which, in fact, form a perfectly focussed point that when aimed directly at one's groin causes pain on levels that can approach registration on the Richter Scale. As if the sheer shock of such an unexpected assault followed by the continent-shattering levels of crushing pain weren't enough, the planning behind such an attack becomes clear mere moments later, and I can only imagine that amongst the vast arrays of apparatus that cats have at their command in their umbral realm, wedged between huge banks of humming monitor stations and clicker-clacking ticker tape reports, there is the lit fuse for the cat's explosive assault: a large red lightbulb that sometimes illuminates brightly, underneath which is the faded, peeling label that reads "Owner drinking hot beverage".

Mopping scalding tea from an already bruised block and tackle, if the dear reader catches my drift, I took the time to curse the rogueish nature of my cat who had now somehow managed to shadow step through the aforementioned magical cat realm out into the garden and was staring smugly in at me, safe from verbal or physical retaliation beyond the kitchen window. I had at that moment pause to think about my statement, even as I eyed the miscreant moggy: rogue was indeed the class that fit the feline's infuriating fetish for furtive forays, but was that the only nature of this particular puss?

In short, what MMO class is my cat?

Rogue is the obvious starting point. For sheer backstabbing subtlety and raw damage per second, my cat had only moments ago clearly demonstrated with devastating effect her prowess in these areas. It takes little imagination to envisage a lonely trek to a long forgotten temple in a far away land, where under the tuition of a harsh but fair master she learnt these ancient techniques, honing her martial arts against wooden practise dummies, then other feline students until finally facing off against multiple masters of the art at the same time, all to a rising and rousing musical score. Training complete, my cat was sent from the temple by her now dying master to hunt down and rid the world of small angry dogs that had gotten too big for their own boots. It sort of breaks down around here (if it ever got started for any of you), because my cat seems to have been waylaid in her quest to fight the good fight against canine kind, and instead put her years of martial training into use predominantly by curling up in a ball and sleeping on my lap. She twitches when she dreams, so I can only imagine she's having suitably epic flashbacks to the monastery, and churning over in her subconscious as to why she didn't choose to abandon her training and leave with Wei Lin to search for the ancient treasure of the seven mystic dragons.

Admittedly my cat has more adventures in my mind than she does her own.

The whole 'purring, sleeping, cute bundle of adorable fur' thing breaks any idea of my cat being a Rogue, clearly when she's in this state she radiates a feeling of wellbeing and quiet contentedness that is infectious to such a degree that it should probably be classified as a disease. It is my resolute belief that any conflict or diplomatic situation could be resolved amicably if all parties were made to sit down and discuss the problem in front of an open fireplace with a snuggle of recently fed and incredibly cosy cats on their laps. Yes, a snuggle of content cats, you define a better collective noun.

No question, the holy grail of peace for all mankind lies with the satiety of cats.

In this respect the cat can be thought of as a healer, not all cats are this way, some are definitely and defiantly bundles of pain, pointy at five out of their six ends, and would quite happily fall feet first into the more combat orientated classes. My cat is a healer though, so this narrows the field somewhat, and for the ever so slightly whimsical nature of this rambling we'll say that the field is defined by those classes available in World of Warcraft, partly because the majority of people will know of those classes but mainly because it allows me to crowbar this post into the MMO theme of the blog.

The Paladin class could be a cat class, for certain cats at least: the pious old warrior who would like to think that he can do DPS but in the end finds that he is far better suited to simply receiving assault after assault before strolling off and finding a human lap in which to curl up and begin his healing phase, while simultaneously and inadvertently crushing his owner under his sheer weight. I imagine the big old tom cats - you know the ones, they seem to have been in the neighbourhood since it was first built in 1764 and show no sign of leaving this mortal coil any time soon - who plod around their territory with all the swagger and self assurance of a silverback gorilla, with the same content belief that nothing and nobody can harm them, and with which comes the lethargy and ponderous prowling of one who has never known what it is like to be bested in mortal combat. Other cats, dogs, trees, small children on bikes and even moving cars have been faced down by this veteran of the concrete jungle, he's taken his share of beatings and yet walked away seemingly unscathed. When finally he is outnumbered, when the hordes of neighbourhood cats have temporarily put aside their inter-faction bickering to take down this old world colossus, he simply looks at his watch whilst twiddling his whiskers, excuses himself with a mention that it is time for his tea, and then he is gone. Ever had that moment when you looked out of your kitchen window and saw your old tom cat out in the road with an oncoming car charging at him, driver and cat both oblivious to the impending collision? You close your eyes and wait for the inevitable, sickening crunch; only you hear nothing and upon opening your eyes there is no traumatic scene of carnage and your old templar of the tarmac is intertwining himself between your legs and calling for his tea. Bubble and hearthstone isn't just for getting out of dire combat situations with the cat mafiosi, you know.

It quickly became clear to me that my cat was not a paladin; it also became somewhat clearer that I was suffering some mild form of post-traumatic stress disorder from the blow to my boll... um, ego, and that this had made my mind wander in such a weird way. Well, weirder than usual, at least. It quickly became clear that my cat was also not a priest: healers extraordinaire and not inconsiderable DPS, they shun melee and do their most potent damage when in the form of a shadow. I imagine priest class cats to be those alley cats who skulk around at night, their wailing and caterwauling enough to wake the dead, a form of psychic scream if you will, putting all kinds of fear into the minds of small children and grown adults alike, who lay in bed, heart pounding and pulling the bed sheets up higher around their head to shield themselves from the banshee that is surely clawing its way up the very side of the house. During the day these hell sirens transform into the mild mannered cats of little old ladies, and spend their time healing the souls of those who offer them the Samaritan sanctity of a comfy lap. Again, not my cat, who does not so much let out haunting banshee wails, but instead emits a sort of pathetic croaking that sounds like someone is throttling a lamb that has been a heavy smoker all of its short life.

In the same way that my cat does not frequent dark alleys, she is also not a nature lover like the druid. Druid cats are those that are always out in the wild, enduring the bracing elements to bring you back wondrous presents from the forest mother, like the unidentifiable entrails of small animals. They create masterful arts of nature in your home, specialising in the medium of mud and your freshly cleaned kitchen floor, perhaps with a little leaf litter thrown in for good measure. And maybe some more entrails. Druid cats are also the ones that get themselves stuck up trees, forgetting that they don't in fact have a flight form. My cat is not a druid either: the only thing that she's ever brought back from outside was a pair of Action Man trousers, which she dragged in backwards through the cat flap and then stood over proudly, croaking in that strangled-lamb-tracheotomy manner a message which I believe was requiring praise and acknowledgement. We never found who those trousers belonged to, but somewhere some kid has an Action Man figure who fights his battles 'privates to the wind'. My cat has also never got stuck up a tree, in fact I've never seen my cat climb higher than the sofa, although I am adamant that some form of ladder and platform arrangement must be used to gain the trajectory and velocity of her more formidable 'lap attacks'.

And so by deduction, mad reasoning and if nothing else default, my cat would appear to be a shaman. It seems to fit well enough, a little bit of healing intermingled with extremes of burst damage that leave her opponents wounded and gasping for breath; she can take on a ghostly form, at least I assume she has some manner of power aiding those stealthy and speedy excursions into cupboards and under beds where she knows she's not allowed, and when she's particularly threatened or stressed she has the ability to lay down water and earth totems which, alas, don't disappear after a set period of time but can only be dispelled with a scrubbing brush and detergent, and even then the lingering oral debuff remains for many hours, even with the windows open; when she's older I imagine that she could also develop a particularly devastating air totem.

So there you have it, my cat is not a rogue but a shaman. And now I plan to take revenge on her for the 'burst of flame' hot tea incident earlier in the week by catching her unawares and strapping an ice cube to her forehead.

Frost shock!

Cats as a class, have never completely got over the snootiness caused by that fact that in Ancient Egypt they were worshipped as gods.
-- P.G. Wodehouse

Thursday, 25 October 2007

There's no school like the old school!

In between defeating demons - I should point out that down here in the Inferno we don't condone banishing our own, but, well... Bat'Zul was kind of an arse, always getting really drunk at the end of century parties and trying to shag the boss's wife. So he had it coming. - and running amok with my druid in World of Warcraft, I've managed to sneak in a little time with the zestily named Orange Box.

There's not a lot of point in reviewing said item when Zero Punctuation can do so with much greater finesse. And much faster too, as it appears that the man does not actually breath air as the rest of us do, but perhaps has a small gill or gland that absorbs air through a form of osmotic reaction and stores it in a small sack under his chin, thus feeding the life-giving gas to his body without him having to interrupt his verbal deluge. I imagine something akin to a bagpipe and it's constituent apparatus, but in a form that only Terra Mater could devise in her eons long evolution of the shape of all things.

Having completed Portal in a couple of hours (and savoured every minute of it) I moved on to trying out Team Fortress 2. I played the original way back in the day and enjoyed it tremendously, and so it was with fevered anticipation that I awaited the new edition, especially as folk such as those at RPS had given it the two thumbs up, special edition, OMG! OMG! OMG! coverage. Suffice it to say that I really enjoyed the game, and if anyone out there ever wants to know what is meant when MMO bloggers talk about 'polish' in a game, if some outsider wants us to quantify and qualify exactly what is going through our heads when all the outsider can think of is a bunch of game developers whipping out the Mr Sheen and a duster and buffing the game CDs to a furious shine, then TF2 is pretty close to a perfect representation, in my mind. They have taken the concept of "The Incredibles meets Team Fortress Classic" put them in the blender of game implementation and created a perfectly smooth and deliciously fruity cocktail of team orientated game play.

Anyway, the reason for my posting - and believe it or not it wasn't to waffle asininely for three paragraphs about random things - was that having played both TF2 and City of Heroes in recent days, and with the very obvious doffing of the proverbial hat to The Incredibles by the simply jaw-droppingly pretty graphics of TF2, I realised what needs to be done: while Sony Online Entertainment grafts away at a DC Universe, and Cryptic crafts a successor to City of Heroes in the Marvel Universe, some enterprising developer needs to create an Incredibles-a-like MMO. It's already been demonstrated that the graphical look and feel of the Pixar film can be captured in a game in such a way as to make grown men weep with joy. Well ok, me, it makes me weep. And what could be more fantastic, incredible if you will, than being able to play comically over the top super hero characters in a setting like Metroville, where the whole thing lends itself to a light hearted and child friendly environment, but which can have the subtle and cleverly layered adult jokes and nods to 'real' comic super hero conventions that the film does.

The Incredibles MMO, it would be... would be.... hoom, hrum, I know there's an appropriate adjective but incredibly it has escaped me for the moment.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007


So a preview of the World of Warcraft comic is out.

And now, a little spoiler from our impish insider at Wildstorm:

Apparently, after the last page we see on the preview site, the human wrestles the crocolisk from off of himself, skins it, and then kills another fifty four of them, until the watching orcs realise that he's a bot, report him to a GM and then move on.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007


I've mentioned before that I'm not really one for the serious analysis of the MMO market, the games or their design; I started out that way, but too many others are all ready doing it, and far better than I could ever be bothered to.

Making light of the industry and its games is easier, for me at least.

I did however have a small vent a while back and received some encouraging feedback from the general bloggerati.

A small addendum, then, to that original post, the basic thrust of which was:

So here we are in the tree of MMO life, where Everquest saw the graphical MMO genre explode out from its roots, and World of Warcraft brought it into the branches of mainstream popular culture as perhaps Half-Life did for FPS games. And now we begin to see the influx of MMOs released in the wake of this success, and the weight of all this extra growth that isn't needed begins to damage the tree, it weighs it down and forces it to spend resources in keeping these branches alive which would be better spent in growing a few stronger and healthier branches. And if nobody comes along to prune it, eventually it will wither and fail, until it is a gnarled trunk unrecognisable from its former glory.

Today we have news that Gods & Heroes is to be cancelled in favour of Perpetual focussing their collective effort on their Star Trek based MMO instead.

Yesterday we had news that WAR is stuck in the trenches and the limited beta has now been closed entirely for a period in order to allow for what, one can only assume, is some major emergency reworking of some fundamental part of the game.

It is a few months ago now since Van Hemlock's supernatural kiss of death upon the niche yet ambitious Auto Assault, and more recently the blogreel has been spattered with tales of the latest saga of Ryzom.

Even the stalwart golden child of the current MMO crop, Pirates of the Burning Sea, has not been without the odd delay, which means that its release date is pushed back - along with nearly every other anticipated MMO of 2007 - into at least the first quarter of 2008.

And need one even mention the delays to release, and the lukewarm beta response, that Tablua Rasa has experienced?

My problem is this: I'm not sure what this means with respect to the tree analogy; the cancellation of AA, G&H and Ryzom seem to be a pruning of the weaker branches, allowing for more freedom on the part of these companies to produce newer, fresher and more healthy growth. However, the delay of nearly every significant MMO title of 2007 still seems to me to be indicating the suffocating effect that all this extra growth is having on the MMO market, and that the phenomenal success of World of Warcraft still casts a monstrous shadow over the rest of the canopy of games, thus blocking out their light.

It will be interesting to see how the MMO market shifts in the coming year or two, whether WoW's domination will finally break, whether the current crop of anticipated MMOs (when they are eventually released) will produce more than just another batch of fresh blooms, that burst forth in all their fragrant glory only to wither away to nothingness too soon after. Will frameworks like Metaplace actually shift the market in an entirely new direction? Will it, perhaps, seed an entirely new market tree, one we cannot yet predict because the opportunity has never been presented before?

If nothing else I'm still glad that I, like many others, have built my house in the MMO tree, and I wait with a fervour of anticipation the next major development of the surroundings.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

War does not determine who is right.

World of Warcraft, then. I've always wondered what exactly was involved in the 'craft of war' within this MMO for the masses, but the other night I received a small hint of what it might entail. I was out questing with my level seventy druid and had found an interesting quest chain that I was enjoying working through. However, coming towards the end of the chain I received a tingling sensation from my Adventurer Sense[TM] and I got the distinct, yet subtle impression that it was all about to get a little bit tricky and complicated.

Me: "What's next, oh recently met this morning person; oh possessor of much shiny loot; oh giver of passages of text that compel me to undertake tasks that your own parents wouldn't be prepared to do for you?"

Quest Giver: "Oooooooo, it's all about to get a little bit tricky and complicated!"

My adventurer sense really is that good.

It turns out that the couple of bits of crystal that I'd been hunting for all this time were not, in fact, in the handbag of a defenceless little old lady who wanders the marshes around Telredor. Nor were they being used as dradles by the infant offspring of the over- exfoliating contentious objectors of northern Nagrand. And neither were they being used in the bedding of the small fluffy herbivores of the Oasis of Calm, Peace and All-round Non-aggressive Nicety. No, apparently these crystals were wedged beneath the fiery arse cracks of a couple of twenty foot tall mega demons who had liked the look of the shiny pebbles and decided to use them as some form of demonic butt plug(*).

(*) May not represent actual quest text.

And so it's off with the Fel Leather gloves and on with Marjorie's Marigolds of Giant Demonic Buttock Mining, and away I go to have a look at these fellows. And so begins the craft of war...

The first rule of Warcraft Club is, you do not talk about Warcraft Club.

The second rule of... uh...

You see, the problem is, they didn't really think those rules through, because after you've stated the first rule you run into the slight snag of not being able to talk about it any more. There were actually one hundred and forty seven rules of the super secret Warcraft Club, but rule one was the only rule anyone ever knew. In fact, nobody knew who the other members were, where to meet or even what the club was actually all about. It was the second worst club in the world.

It was, however, just slightly more successful than the worst club in the world: the super secret Craft o' War group - formed shortly after it was realised that the Warcraft Club wasn't going anywhere - had the unfortunate first rule that you absolutely, positively, must talk about the club at all times. This certainly overcame the issues presented by the Warcraft Club rules, but alas was not entirely conducive to keeping a secret school of war very much of a secret. Two hours and thirty four seconds after the Craft o' War club was formed the core members were rounded up and shot, partly for being involved in an underground movement for training in internecine warfare tactics, but mainly because they were all clearly idiots.

Where in the Inferno was I? Oh yes! The craft of war.

The first rule in the craft of war: Scout out the objectives.

Scouting is probably a slight understatement. In normal warfare a scout would generally observe the enemy encampment through some sort of optical magnification device from half a mile away, make a note of numbers, patrol routes and any other such information that they can glean, then high-tail it out of the area before they were discovered. In the craft of war, the scout can walk into the enemy encampment, have a good old nose around of what's going on and maybe even carry a small clipboard with them and take a survey of a few wandering patrols:

Scout: "Excuse me! Excuse me, sir! I was wondering if you had a little time to talk to me today about the reinforcement capabilities of your camp here."

Throgg: "Oh... uh... no. Throgg real busy right now. I, ahhh, I talked to previous person further up the camp, yes that it, spoke to one already, must get to bank before it closes, sorry."

Scout: "Come now, sir, just a moment of your time to detail patrol movements over each twenty four hour period."

Throgg: <Walking faster now> "Noooo, Throgg not interested."

Scout: "Well, can I ask you to take this leaflet? It details who we are, and why we're going to be attacking your camp later this afternoon."

Throgg: <Snatches leaflet> "Ok! Ok! Now leave Throgg be!"

And the great thing is, once you've scouted around, you won't have to do it again: the enemy won't react to you roaming around their fort by, say, reinforcing the gate guard, switching patrols around or even plugging up the gaping great hole in the perimeter that you waltzed in through, they'll just carry on as happy as ever, although one or two might be grumbling about the recent influx of street surveys.

The second rule in the craft of war: Plan an escape route.

It's always a good idea to plan your escape route should something go wrong. Generally though, your escape route is going to be your entry route, since you'll have cleared a neat little path right through the centre of the enemy camp, and the enemy certainly won't consider the trail of corpses of their nearest and dearest comrades in arms to be any reason to follow the trail on to its source, namely you.

"Throgg not remember this many corpses of Groth and Strugg and Krung last time he patrol past here. Oh well. Throgg not see any hoomans, so on Throgg goes."

The third rule in the craft of war: Have a little go.

This is a fierce demon you're facing, and you don't know quite where in that megalith of a butt he might have stashed the crystal. It looks like you might have to defeat him outright and then search the corpse due to the concern that trying to pick this particular flatulent pocket might cause you more than a little harm. Never fear, however, because you can take this chap on as many times as you like so long as your escape route is clear, for despite commanding legions he will never call upon them when he is set upon by troublesome adventurers. For example, if you want to know if your rooting spell will hold him, just stand back a bit and cast it; if it fails he'll charge after you, certainly, but you can just saunter away from him, perhaps while smoking a pipe and twirling a cane in your other hand. Keep walking nonchalantly along, because just as he is about to reach you he'll suddenly remember that he left the iron on, or he forgot to feed his cat, or perhaps he hears the tinkling tones of a nearby ice cream van, and he'll turn tail and rush back to camp as fast as his cloven-hooves will carry him.

"Curse you to all four corners of the fiery underworld you puny mortal, you dare to taunt me?! I will DESTROY YOU, I WILL UTTERLY... oh hell, I left my socks drying in the oven. <Turns around and legs it back to base>NEXT TIME ADVENTURER. NEXT TIME!".

The fourth rule in the craft of war: Clear all the minions in the area.

You've cleared a huge swathe of mobs on your way to their leader, but always hang around for a bit to see if there are any patrols that you've missed. You may have to wait a while though since the patrols, although eminently predictable, may range far and wide in the most illogical and utterly bizarre manner possible. Thus, it may take some time for various patrols to reach that point, five feet in front of the person they're supposed to be guarding, where you are currently camped.

"This is the seven thirty south western patrol, calling at Far Away, Further Away, Way Way Too Far Away, All The Way On The Other Side Of The Map, Half Way To Nowhere In Particular and Stratford Upon Avon."

The fifth rule in the craft of war: Have another little go.

While you're waiting for patrols don't be afraid to have the odd pot-shot at the demon commander when you feel you have enough room. The boss will have entirely forgotten you since two minutes ago, and certainly won't have developed any strategies to undermine what you attempted last time.

The huge pile of his guard patrols' corpses seems to be entirely uninteresting to him. Maybe he's deep in thought, perhaps composing an irritating Muzak tune that he will unleash on all the elevators of the world; he's not an evil demonic commander for nothing, you know.

The sixth rule in the craft of war: Buff up.

A small delightful picnic a few yards away from your target is always a wonderful way to boost the morale of yourself and any other members in your party. Be sure to bring a nice bottle of Beaujolais nouveau!

Don't worry though, as well as not being able to see for more than a few feet in front of their nose, demonic commanders are notorious for their complete lack of the sense of smell.

The seventh rule in the craft of war: Charge!

Attack for all you're worth!

You've had some light exercise, a delicious light lunch, and a quick round of 'toy with the mob', so you should be ready by now.

The seventh and a half rule in the craft of war: Run away!

I told you those patrols took a long time to come around.

The seventh rule in the craft of war: Charge!

Ok, you've finally cleared all the patrols, including the seven thirty south western service, so it's time to try rule seven again. Yes, rule seven again, we're not wasting a new rule because you didn't clear all the patrols; did you think the fourth rule was there for fun?

The eighth rule in the craft of war: There is no rule eight.

And for good reason.

The ninth rule in the craft of war: Run away!

Don't be complacent in your victory, for the demonic commander does, at least, have one trick up his sleeve. Once you've defeated him and retrieved your crystal, wiped off the goo and stored it away, do not then take time to gloat, because as you stare at the very corpse of the one who you but moments ago defeated, the very same demonic commander will also, through some bizarre and incomprehensible spawning process, be looming up over your shoulder ready to deliver you to your doom, and this time he put his socks in the airing cupboard to dry...

And finally, the tenth rule in the craft of war: You absolutely must or must not talk about the craft of war depending on the situation, but the general idea is that we'd like to keep it a secret so use your common sense and discretion.

Oh wait, sorry. That's incorrect, the tenth rule is: Never wear a lilac cummerbund with a white dinner suit, it just isn't the done thing in polite society.

Friday, 5 October 2007

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.

I find myself bumbling around in City of Heroes and World of Warcraft at the moment, playing neither of them with any real passion but enjoying the short stints of play that I do embark upon. I'm surprised by this newfound ability to play in ever smaller slices of my daily time pie; although in truth these can't really be seen as a slices, but more as the simple pleasure of scraping out of the filling and eating that alone, leaving the overly thick and unpalatably burnt crust of housework and chores until later. The arcade-like accessibility of CoH allows for this brief gorging, with its lack of loot and, more importantly, a community that seems not quite so hell-bent on turning the game into a bizarre new TV 'talent' show called Loot Idol, the game's society does not present that cognitive dissonance that can be found in the more time-intensive MMOs where a considerable investment is required for any real return in gaming satisfaction.

Curiously though, I am also currently experiencing that same feeling in World of Warcraft, and the reason is an interesting one. Well, interesting like the ingredients on the back of a packet of crisps are interesting when you're waiting for a train and have nothing else to read, but I'm bored, you're here, so let's just pretend that it's full of fascinating e numbers and calorie counts, shall we? The reason that I can play in such short periods of time and gain satisfaction at the end of it is due to a couple of factors. For one, I'm playing one of my level seventy characters and therefore, level wise, there's nowhere for me to go, nothing to crave and no new abilities to desire. No level based restrictions whatsoever. Now this is interesting in itself because there are plenty of other artificially introduced restrictions and 'levels' in the form of reputation and raid attunement and such, but they don't register with me as being The Game. What I mean by The Game is that when I sit down and play an MMO for the first time the simple challenge that is presented front and centre is that you are level one and have something like two abilities that you can use to advance in the game; advancement, and hence The Game, is that you will gain in level and with each of those levels you will gain new or improved abilities that will allow you to continue further in your player experience.

A quick aside: those two new abilities you get will allow you to stab innocent folk in the mediastinum, set innocent folk alight or explode innocent folk into a fine cherry vapour mist. A character never starts out with abilities that allow them to help innocent folk across the road, sell Tupperware or build housing for innocent folk to hide in so that they don't get stabbed in the medulla oblongata. Ok, those are crap abilities, but perhaps starting out with skills in diplomacy or crafting might be an interesting change from starting out with the ability to effortlessly slice and dice an orc into fillets suitable for a Gob Kebob.

Raiding and other past times are not The Game to my way of thinking because they are clearly an artificially tagged-on treadmill for people who have completed The Game. Specifically, raiding is based on loot progression not character progression. If I returned my character to earlier areas and gave him the same gear as he had back then, he would not only be able to defeat those encounters more easily, but could also take on harder content that he wouldn't have been able to when he was the appropriate level. The character improvement is the intrinsic part. So anyway, tenuous as that argument may seem, it's how I feel about current MMOs and therefore, because there's no XP bar silently staring at me from the top of the screen projecting a contorted face of anger and derision that says "You don't do enough to fulfil me, I'm leaving you for another hero who has a bigger sword with which he can satisfy my needs", I can play for as little time as I want and then log-out without feeling as though I should be doing more for my bunny boiler of a progress meter.

Another factor that allows for brief spurts of WoWgasm is that travel time is short. Outlands - where most of the quests that I can undertake are to be found - is pretty small as it is, add on top of this fact that I can now fly and therefore not only travel in a straight line to my destination but do so without drawing aggro from crap animals along the way, and travelling becomes a minor break between having fun rather than a major expedition that would make Sir Ranulph Fiennes blanch. This again makes sense within the context of The Game: I'm done, I've hit the level cap, I'll either re-roll, leave or repeatedly hit my head against the reinforced glass wall of raid content; so because The Game is over, there's no need to keep things like artificially slow travel in the way of play any more since there's no levelling progress to restrict and obstruct in order to keep people in the bulk of the content.

Finally the other joy that immediately springs to mind is that I can pick the quests that look and sound interesting, rather than feeling the need to complete any quest I can lay my hands on so that the Experience Mistress won't release the Hounds of Achievement to hunt me down and deliver their own special brand of frothing, tooth-laden guilt. Thus, I have the freedom to say:

"I'm sorry Farmer Bob, but stuff you. Stuff you, and stuff your crops that are being overwhelmed by rats. Perhaps if you hadn't built your farm in The Valley of Rats on Plague Island, next to that giant rat hole where Gorgonra the terrible red-eyed queen of rodents lives; perhaps if you hadn't decided to grow a specific crop that can only be considered the crack cocaine of the rat world; perhaps if you had developed some form of basic hygiene rather than just defecating where you stand through a flap in the back of your dungarees; perhaps if you had built something, anything that might be considered a defence against a rampage of rodents, rather than a picket fence and a scare crow that wouldn't bother Terrified Tim the Timid of Treenton, who is scared of absolutely everything, including the thought that someone might cure him of being scared. Then I might just find it in myself to be bothered to waste my time chasing ten of the little bastards around and bringing you their measly little hides so that you can reward me with a piece of moss and half a button.

It's deliciously refreshing. Although that might just be the air I'm breathing now that I've moved on from Farmer Bob's rat infested poo pile.

The main problem I have with these brief but enjoyable sojourns from the real world is that this style of play does not provide a lot of material for a blog: "I logged on. I did a couple of quests. I fed Farmer Bob to Gorgonra. I logged out" is hardly compelling reading and I don't have the inclination to make it sound more dynamic or epic, it's just not my thing, and I'm certainly not experiencing anything new and irritating that would inspire a tirade of biting satire or comedy situations.

I'm afraid that I'm not one to talk just for the sake of it, so if it's a bit quiet here then it's simply because I'm waiting for more fuel to fire the Inferno.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Thought for the day.

If I were a quest giver, I'd get heroes to:

  • Mow the lawn. Reward: Mighty Blade of the Grass.

  • Fetch the shopping. Reward: Whatever change there is from a tenner.

  • Clear out the loft. Reward: +20 to dust resistance. New ability: Cobweb camouflage.

  • Clean my car. Reward: Dropping covered helmet of Pij'Eon. Disclaimer: Might be a plastic bucket full of dirty car water.

  • Sort out my sock drawer. Reward: The Wholly Holey Sock of Holiness.

  • Feed my cat its medication tablet. Reward: -50hp. -1 eye. +20 tetanus resistance.

  • Cook dinner. Reward: The follow-on quest "Washing dishes is propitious".

  • Do the washing up. Reward: Prune fingers of the Marigoldless.

  • Perform my job for a day. Reward: Ah hah hah ha ha! Hooooooo.

  • Answer the door to cold callers. Reward: -5 Int. +5 Stam.

  • Watch daytime TV and summarise it for me. Reward: -20 Wis. New ability: Train small dogs to cook banana fritters while they ride a unicycle.

  • Clear away the horde of youths hanging around the local shops and being a nuisance. Reward: One thousand gold; it doesn't really matter what the reward, no adventurer has ever returned.

  • Fix the leaking cistern. Reward: +20 water resistance. New ability: Swear like a gangster rapper.

  • Level my current character in the latest MMO grind-fest. Reward: None. As well you know.

  • Perform any other task that people define as 'character building'. Reward: I dunno, +1 in a stat, or something. Apparently.

Thinking about it: if I could get enough adventurers on the books I could start a cleaning company, I'd just tell them that it's a rep. grind and they'd be all over it like a WoW forum on patch day. I'm not sure what Johnny Homeowner would make of a van full of heavily armoured, beefy heroes and buxom heroines unloading on their driveway, though.

Melmoth's Municipal MMO Maids, coming to a zone near you soon.