What a difference, a “D” makes…

November 29, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

I’ve had that song running around my head for a couple of days now, just with that slight modification to the signature line.

Why?

Well, Skooge is no more.

There’s a part of me that will miss Undead Roguey Skooge.  He wasn’t my first World of Warcraft character, but for the longest time he was my identifier with World of Warcraft.  If anything in- or out-game changed, my first thoughts would be how Skooge would be affected.

In fact, I was so wrapped up in Skooge that I didn’t play alts.  Imagine that; Hawley without alts.  This was even in a time before Hawley.  Imagine that, too.

Now, he’s gone.  Just so much dust in the wind.

And after handing over £20, a quick faction change, the addition of skin, a new face, and the addition of one simple letter “D”, Skoodge is the new kid in town.

The faction change is a bit of a slap in the face, though.  I suppose it is final proof  that, for me at least, game beats all.

It beats nostalgia; I had good times and bad as a member of the Horde, but it seems that “For the Horde!” goes only so far with me, and just not far enough.

It beats characterisation; So Skooge was undead?  Not any more.  He’s cured!   What, I need a role-playing proof rationale?  No, no I don’t.  Role-playing in MMOs is something I do for fun; it’s not the reason for playing.  I will just have to endure the censure of any role-players out there, secure in the knowledge that I deserve it.

It beats my sensibilities about “Value Added Services”; no Sparkly Pony for me.  Neither small panda nor some midget demon thing sway me, and the aforementioned Sparkly Pony just washes over me.  I pay my subscription; that’s all I want to pay.  Yet as a waged adult, I get to decide how I will solve a problem.  Will it be through application of time and effort?  That would mean levelling a character from 1 to 80 on the Alliance side.  Or will I solve this problem through the application of cold, hard cash?  That would mean availing myself of that Value Added Service.  In this case, a few months of game-play is worth far more to me than the £20 fee of changing sides, so there we go.

So, kids, here’s the scoop.  Game is king on Planet Hawley.

The reason Undead Rogue Skooge is now Human Rogue Skoodge is the prospect of better game.  Plain and simple.

More of my friends play on the Alliance side.  As a result, most of my playing is on the Alliance side.  From a pragmatic perspective, that means more chance of instances, more chance of raiding, more chance of fun.

Yet there is a part of me that will miss the Horde.  I’m already pondering creating a horde character somewhere, and going through the levelling from zero to hero.  The question is what to choose, really.  Probably a priest.

Part of me thinks that I should just man up and play.  I’ve devoted hours of my life to furthering the aims and objectives of the Horde; what have they done for me?

Smart money says I’ve got some fun memories of some fun gaming.  But now the gaming isn’t as much fun as it could be, and it is, after all, the game that’s the thing.  Having the most fun gaming is something that I want; that must be the main difference between a perpetual world and a game.

In a game, we shouldn’t have to do chores.  I’m reminded of Hot Tub Time Machine, when one of the characters has a Second Life character serving hard time in chokey.  Fun gag, with a lovely comment about perpetual worlds.

The last few months have made me realise that the needs of the real world outweigh those of the online world, and that the callow perpetual world dreams of my youth are nothing more than dreams.

The adult (with monkey-brain) that I’ve become has realised over the last few months that all I want at the moment is a fun game, because that’s all the time I can spare from the rest of my life.  I have social and work commitments that don’t want to share their time with MMO gaming; if I’m going to be doing chores, I’d rather do them in the real world, than whilst pretending to be an Undead Rogue.

Cheers,
Hawley.

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Seismic Influences

November 25, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Posted in General | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

Mixed in with various idle thoughts of where and how to survive an impending Cataclysm, I’ve been pondering thoughts of the expansion itself.  Part of this has been rather expertly put on record by YawningAngel, which makes me wonder if my head-brain has been broadcasting on open channels again.  I think it’s more that he might have tapped into the Warcraft-Zeitgeist.  At least I hope so; I’d think I’d like to be part of a Zeitgeist movement thingy.  I’ve never done it before.  It would make me one of the cool kids, and that would be nice.

Asides aside, I’ve also been quite surprised about the way that information about Cataclysm has not just influenced the way I’ve played in a minor way, but actively influenced my choices about what to play, where and how.

The biggest influence has been towards the myriad of alts I seem to generate in every game.

Knowing that Blizzard were about to throw out a new, revised set of levelling zones and quests, with all the attendant concepts of “New Levelling Experience”, meant that any alts I’d created (or thought about creating) that had not reached level 60 were shelved.

Why level characters through content that I’ve played through a few times already, when I can level them all through revised content that will hopefully be a lot more fun for me?  Yes, I find replaying content to be a lot less fun than experiencing it the first time around; the perfect game for me would be one with at least 5 or 6 routes to level through so I’d be able to have loads of alts, and hopefully less repetition.

I like playing alts; I like being able to play in varying styles, and performing various roles.  Even to the extent of not minding one little bit about changing which characters I play as part of a raid team, if and when required by the raid leaders.  It’s about the act of raiding, not the attainment of shiny phat lewtz.

So Cataclysm is a welcome change, as far as I’m concerned.  I find myself fired up to play, to start levelling alts and experiencing this fun, new content.

Yet I was also frustrated, in the sort of way that makes me want to take cold showers and cross my legs.  I was all hot and bothered to get that Warlock up and running, or get my Paladin and Hunter back on the rails and levelling up again, but there was no point.  Playing then meant playing in the old, soon-to-be-cataclysmed Azeroth, rather than in the spangly new-and-improved-by-escaping-dragon Azeroth.

Just like YawningAngel, I wanted to be in there and playing, yet I found myself stuck for things to do.  There were plenty of things I wanted to be doing, yet there was no point to doing them because of all the changes that would be happening soon.  And those prospected changes were the main reason I could see all these gaming options…  It’s good to have the option, and the fire to play, though.  No complaints here.

The other side to this double-edged hype is that I’m finding myself wondering if I’m going to end up with a whole set of level 60 alts, largely because I’d really appreciate it if Outland was revamped and rejigged too.

Not much to ask, is it?

Cheers,
Hawley.

Trial and Error

November 22, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

One of the fun things of coming back to a character, for me at least, is that lovely period of time it takes to relearn all the skills.  Especially when something like World of Warcraft has decided to change everything with Patch 4.0.

It’s not a a bit like learning a new character; to all intents and purposes it *is* learning a new character.

And with relearning skills comes all the fun of setting up action bars and quick keys.  I tend to play with a combination of key presses and mouse clicks when activating skills.  Anything that’s a core ability in my rotation will be assigned one of those clever action bar slots that means I can press a number to activate it.

Anything that’s occasionally used will be assigned an action bar slot that needs a mouse click.

The joy isn’t in that first assignment of skills (even if I do agonise over it, to the extent that it will take about an hour just to get skills in slots).  It’s in the period of testing, evaluation, and confirmation that goes with trying to refine how to play a class and character to get the most from them.

Fun times ahead.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Of Swords and Ploughshares

November 18, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

I am more than aware I have been striding purposefully down the “Bah humbug!” path when it comes to Events in MMOs over the last however-long.

That’s “Events” with a capital “E” because I’m not just referring to the seasonal events beloved of so many (right-thinking) players, but also things like the Elemental Invasion in World of Warcraft, or the Trivia Nights and Motorcycle Rides in Fallen Earth.

At the same time I look at recent (well, for *me* they’re recent, they may well be old hat for you) changes in the way that Rogues work in World of Warcraft, and I find myself not particularly caring that the game has been “dumbed down” to use the terms favoured by detractors, or “improved” if you’re a developer who worked on that particular area.

In point of fact, I tend to find that I approve of most of the changes.

Let’s take poisons.  Nasty rogueses and their poisons.

Almost 6 years ago, a rogue had to go and buy potion bottles and herbs, and then sit there making potions.  It was a skill-based progression just like any other profession skills, and was the immersive option.  Then Blizzard decided it was a waste of time; a redundant skill, and an opportunity to stand there doing very little that was actually fun for a few minutes.  So whilst poisons were still level-based, they were sold as consumables by vendors.

Now, they’re not even level-based.  They just scale the damage according to level.

In the midst of all this, the way that poisons worked changed as well.  They stopped having both a time limit and charges, and just had time-limits.

Sorted.  Big thumbs up from the slacker here.

Less work, less silly “wastage”, less carting around assorted crap in bags.

Of course, your opinion might well vary on whether or not this trend amongst games to step away from the minutae and towards an “enhanced” gaming feel is something you appreciate or not.

And it really depends on your opinion of what a “persistent world” should be.  Is it an actual world, where players can exist as a part of the world, or is it a playset, there to be a backdrop for the game?

Are MMOs about the world, or the game set in it?

I used to believe in the Persistent World Dream.  The fact that the technology couldn’t support it when I started playing MMOs didn’t mean that each successive generation of MMOs couldn’t and wouldn’t take us closer the dream.  But time has managed to savage that dream, with a succession of slings and arrows.

Not all of them are related to software developers, game publishers, and evil marketing men (okay, not all marketing men are evil.  One or two *must* be nice; it’s the law of averages at work).  I’m not the same geek I was even 3 years ago.  I have wife, job, and a lot less time to spend in front of a pc living the virtual life of an orc.

And if I want the virtual life of an orc, I can go to…  Second Life.  Whatever Second Life is doing at the moment; I never entertained Second Life as a gaming option because it isn’t a game in the way that I would see a game.  I am, at heart, still a gamer.  I like rules, and a win condition.  So I know it’s there, but I’ve no interest in the opportunities it offers.

I’ve also no need to play Offices and Accountants.  I get to live in a mundane world as part of normal existence.  I want adventure, I want crazy mad action, and I want huge piles of trez at the end of it.

Just without the requirement of getting shot, stabbed, stamped on, denied frequent access to tea, or any of the other really horrible things that happen to real people who go on adventures.

Events just seem to get in the way.  I was positively outraged at those elementals that decided to attack Stormwind as I was attempting to find the Shaman trainer with Shaman Herewerd.  I couldn’t have cared less about attacking elementals; I was trying to get Herewerd set up with talents, and they were *JUST IN THE WAY*.

My gaming time is quite often a snatched hour away from other hobbies, chores, or quality time with my lovely lady.  I log in with a game-plan of things I want to get done.  And anything that gets in the way of the shopping list I want to get done is bad and wrong, and shall be given the short shrift it deserves.

Don’t get me (too) wrong.  I enjoy logging on and pottering about in an MMO, but to me that pottering about isn’t about reinforcing my position in a world by doing mundane things.  It’s more about casually murdering a few monsties for their trez.

I want to miss out the boring stuff, the pointless and petty grind of such tasks as making poisons.  I want to get on and game:

I want swords, not ploughshares.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Fun and Raiding

November 15, 2010 at 7:25 pm | Posted in General | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

Having read the posts of my more erudite and talented peers, recently there has been a few posts regarding behaviour whilst engaged in the playing of MMOs.  The marvellous and fabulous Arbitrary has a lovely post here, over at Spinksville, for example.

Personally, I blame the parents.  I really do.  Parents are both omniscient and omnipresent.  They are all powerful.  Especially where questions of plumbing and automobile maintenance are concerned.

That’s in later years, though.  In more formative years, the Parental Unit is usually there as a moral compass, as an arbiter of fairness, and as a method of injecting the youngster with the appropriate amount of manners.

Those building blocks form the part of our personalities, as well as providing the framework for most, if not all of our interactions as a member of society.

So how is it, with the Parental Unit being omniscient enough to know when ears have not been washed behind, or teeth not been brushed, and omnipresent enough to be there when they are really, really needed, can they have really messed up by not bothering to tell us how to survive the peer-pressure world of the internets?

When I were naught but a wee bairn, computers were large things that occupied entire rooms, replete with large tape reels and entire walls’ worth of flashing lights.  They would sit there and store customer databases for large corporations/banks, whilst idling between attempts to destroy the world (or just astronaut crews) and attempts at gaining their own sentience.

To put it another way, there was no internets when I was younger.  Even so, it was shoddy of my omniscient and omnipresent parents not to see the way the future was shaping, and impart upon me the required etiquette lessons to survive online.

Shoddy.  I am so disappointed.  They were *so* close to getting it *all* right.

Ah well.

As a result, I’ve had to muddle along.  Just like, I’m sure, we all have as we’ve partaken in the birth of a new culture.

Within that culture are further subcultures, of which MMO Gamers are but one subculture.

Into all this steps I, your genial host.  I started to wonder at some of these unwritten rules because I’ve been looking forward to getting back into raiding properly in Cataclysm.  I might well even make an effort at the Radiance Grind, and see if I can raid as one of the Free-to-Play Peoples.  Who knows?  I am a one-man raiding renaissance at the moment.

I have, of course, been pondering whether it’s possible to have fun whilst raiding.

Now, if you ask them, I’m pretty sure that 99% of all raiding guilds or (guilds that raid, if you prefer) will answer that “Yes, we have fun raiding”.  It’s only natural; raiding, just like any other game activity, is *supposed* to be fun.  At the same time, no-one wants to put themselves forward as the Moon-Faced Assassin of Joy, especially when they’re attempting to recruit more players.

In point of fact, the only 1 percenters I can think of are those po-faced guild websites I’ve seen, wherein one must be screamingly, ragingly *hardcore*, and everything else must be sacrificed at the Altar of World First.

Luckily, I don’t need to associate with them.  All the raiders I know are cool people, with not an MFAJ amongst them.  It’s not just my belief that it’s possible to have fun whilst raiding, *it’s my experience*.

Professionalism isn’t about being HARDCORE!  It’s not about being the online equivalent of “Po-Faced” Harry McGlum on a particularly grimace-y day.  It’s not even about treating the game as if you’re being paid to do it.  It’s about balls and attitude.

It’s about having the balls to think; “I can do that”, when faced with impossible odds.  It’s about having the attitude to continue on, even when the impossible odds seem to be winning.

Sometimes the only thing that keeps me going is my sense of humour, and not just when gaming.

I’ve always felt that “professionalism” is about respect.  In MMO gaming, that’s about respecting your fellow gamers and seekers of entertainment; your raid team mates.  Turn up on time, with the right gear, in the right place.  And respect your fellow players enough  to take your turn on the bench when the situation requires it.

Not acting like a wanker is really important when it comes to having fun when raiding.  And yes, it can be really difficult at times for me to maintain that professional attitude.  What can I say?  Acting all wankerish comes naturally to me.

Now, there is a rather valid question to raise at this point; “When does the fun go too far?”

I’m terrible when it comes to practical jokes.  In most situations, practical jokes just seem to be a more advanced form of bullying.  Not only does the victim of the practical joke get to be ridiculed (usually in public, so everyone can have a good laugh at their expense) but if they don’t “join in”, then they don’t have a sense of humour.

To me, it’s a bit like having to thank someone every time they punch you in the gonads.  I fail to see why it’s such a harmless and funny activity.

To me, the fun goes to far when someone can end up hurt, physically or psychologically.  The line is easier to see in the real world than it is in an MMO; non-verbal communication makes up so much of our contact with other people that we struggle when it’s no longer there, and as a species Homo Geeksor is not yet capable of discerning the exact postion of The Line through text or voice communications, never mind be aware of how far they have crossed it.

To me, the fun goes too far, that line has been crossed, when someone is ending up having a bad time.  When the raid leader is frustrated at no-one else seeming to care about progression; when those on time have to wait for the laggards; when those with provisions have to cater for not only themselves, but the ill-prepared.

When someone is having a giggle at everyone else’s expense.

And there is an expense; time and effort aren’t cheap.  That’s time and effort that could, for example, have been spent with family and sundry and assorted loved ones.

So wasting time by doing something “funneh” that causes a wipe, or leaves everyone in deepest of deep doo-doo?  That’s not fair, it’s not right, and it’s definately not a fun practical joke.

Yet I can’t help feeling; “No Wipe, No Foul”.  A joke cracked at the right time can not only lift spirits, it can make them soar.  Laughter is part of what makes us human, and such wonderful, creative, beautiful souls.  It shines a light on our frailties, and makes kings of paupers.

I worked for a company that, for a short time, banned laughter in the workplace.  No word of a lie.

And yes, it was just as stupid in practise that it sounds in concept.  Absolutely.

So apply that to raiding.  Are MMOs there to be taken so seriously that we’re not even allowed to laugh whilst playing?

Humour serves another function, and that is to remind others that “I am here”.  It’s easy to get lost in a crowd and raiders are, on the whole, part of a crowd.  It’s not a solo sport, it’s a team sport.  Yet everyone craves individuality, especially when it’s so easy to get lost amongst so many of our peers.

It’s easy for raid leaders.  They’re easy to spot.

Regular members of the raid need to rely on our personalities to get noticed, and no-one wants to be noticed for being a grumpy wanker.  Not only does everyone notice the funny member of the raid, but they’re always happy they’re coming along.  Fun begets fun, after all.

Sometimes it’s more about how we do a thing, rather than how well we do it.

Yet at other times, it’s about concentration, and putting our game-faces on.  I wonder how many times a raid team has had a last attempt of the night.  Orders from the raid leader are for serious attitudes, no unecessary chatter, no being silly.  One last do-or-die attempt before leaving our fantastic worlds, and going to back to our humdrum every-day world?

It’s a valid position to hold.  Work hard, make the most of it, because that evening’s raid is over no matter how it ends.  It’s that whole “going down guns blazing”, but for a modern, geeky audience.

We subsume our personalities into the whole, for when the whole succeeds, we as individuals succeed.  Or something.

Success.  Success brings fun; those heady and exciting moments where the boss hits the dirt, and it’s trez time.  It’s exciting, it’s joyous, especially when it’s the first time that big bad boy has dropped.

Is it worth removing all fun from the exercise, to have that fun later?  I think not.  Part of the joy of the thing is in attempting it, not just in the divvying up of the spoils of victory.  Even divvying up trez gets boring when there’s no challenge to gaining it.

It’s also worth pointing out that we are all beholden to each other, and ourselves, to have fun.  To ensure that the fun doesn’t go too far.  To not act like a wanker, and to not misinterpret a comrade’s actions as those of a wanker.

It’s about losing any judgemental attitude.  “Not in my raid” might end up with you being the only member of your raid.  And yes, I realise I’ve just lost 50 dkps for saying that out loud.

In the mean time, we can all muddle along whilst we try and sort out the rules of etiquette for our own weird, wonderful little subculture.

But, whilst we do, give the fun a break.

Cheers,
Hawley.

P.S. Well done to everyone who has got this far.  Here is a picture of a kitten.

 

Happy Weekend, one and all!

November 12, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

There is a great vista of opportunity (which, incidentally, is *not* a phrase I picked up from a promotional video about the town of Preston, Lancashire, but sounds like it would belong in one) that comes with the knowledge that The Weekend Is Here.

Two whole days of being The Man, as opposed to the other five days where one is forced to work for The Man in order to pay bills.  Obviously, daydreams of what to do during those two whole days are a wonderful way to fill a slow (or horrible) working Friday.

I hope I am not alone in this; the anticipation of a weekend, coupled with that great vista of opportunity opening up like like the front door of the Edwards’ home at the beginning of The Searchers, is enough to lighten even the worst of Fridays.

Of course, it’s rare I get to actually play as much as I’d want.

Real life, for example, has a way of intruding.  Most heinous are common acts of chores.  I have been informed, with absolutely no chance of appeal, that chores wait for no geek.  Even the argument; “But I’m *this* close to levelling” holds no weight in the Court of Relationship.

Then there are the demands of family.  Family, much as I love them, have a fantastic ability to sneak gatherings and events on me.  I’m pretty sure that the only thing sneakier than a ninja at midnight is a family do, especially when I have some gaming planned.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though.  Sometimes I don’t get to play because friends will call on me to go and do something in the real world.  At others, I’ll get distracted by something lovely and shiny (such as wargaming, or boardgames, or similar sundry geeky activities).

Sometimes I just snooze.

Every so often, I even get some gaming in.  It helps when my lovely lady’s weekend is ruined by her having to work, because that means I can be… judicious… about when and how chores get done.  Even though it’s thoroughly mean of me to point that out.

There are also those weekends where nothing calls on me, where nothing needs my attention, and where (for a limited time only) all the chores are up to date.  And as an antidote to a nasty week at work, there is gaming.

Ah, such bliss those weekends can be.

If the server isn’t down.

Cheers,
Hawley.

…and in the darkness grind them.

November 11, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Posted in General | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

With Azeroth on the verge of being cataclysmed: with Post-Apocalyptic Hawley and Wol still being part of the Sector 1 population in Fallen Earth: with Eve Online looking at me and recommending I log in again, I’m mindful of the fact that with games, comes the big, bad Grind.

*Grind*.  Just the word has connotations.  Getting sucked up, *ground* up, and then spat out at the other side, bruised, battered and bloody.

There’s a reason the Gaming lexicon adopted the use of the word *Grind* for what is deemed to be long, uninteresting and repetitive game-play, and it’s not because players enjoy it.  It’s the big bad bogeyman of negative fun, an accusation of shoddy game design on the part of the developer, and poor choice of gaming on the part of the player.

I’m not above railing about evil grind myself; one of the reasons I stopped playing Aion was because it was (even at low levels) a bit of a grind, and only looked like it was going to get worse.

I stopped crafting as a rule (Fallen Earth is the notable exception) because in most MMOs crafting seems to be a long, fruitless time- and money-sink.

And various MMOs of various genres have… yes, the known term is “Reputation Grind”.

Of course, one person’s grind is another’s compelling game-play.

Now, I’m not crazy enough (yet) to try and throw up a definition for the term “Grind”.  For a start, it’s one of those jargon-y buzzwords that means many things, to too many people.  And lastly, this is the internet, and the internet loves arguing what the exact meaning of a word is, down to it’s most minute detail.

That sort of discussion gives me the fear.

Instead, I shall carry on blithely, letting you use your own meaning of the term “Grind”, whilst I ramble on about a few things I’ve noticed over the years.

Let us start with: “The game only begins at maximum level”.  This perennial little nugget of Ultimate Truth is one of my pet peeves.  It doesn’t.  The game begins when we log in for the first time.  That whole levelling thing isn’t an extended tutorial, it’s a game.  *The* game is *all* of the game.  Not just when the levelling ends.

It makes me wonder if it’s just a coded way of saying:  “Levelling is a grindy-nasty thing that I don’t like.  It’s wrrrrrrubbish!” Yet at the same time, buying an account off ebay, or using a power-levelling service is Bad And Wrong™.

Levelling is seen by many as a learning experience.  It’s all about learning how to play that chosen, specific class to its maximum potential, and anyone who bypasses that experience by crossing a third party’s palm with filthy lucre is putting group and guild-mates at risk by not being able to turn up and play their “A” game.

Now, there is a part of me that understands the desire to pay for levels.  I have, after all, publicly stated that at times I wished there was a big fat Level Me Now button, that I can press to level my alts rather than repeating content.

And sometimes, when presented with the full and awesome firepower of that most unholy of things, the Hell Level, I’d have loved to just reach out and press that big ol’ red button.  Even in a regular but slow level, there is the urge to just nuke it and move on with the fun.  Witnessing constant advancement and experiencing the gain in power it brings is one of the fun bits of levelling characters; don’t remove that with a grind, Mr Developer.

Of course, when it’s through a sweet spot, levelling is a joy to behold.  All classes, in all games, get a sweet spot.  Where the stars conjoin, and a class is just that bit more powerful than the mobs and quests it’s facing against.  It’s still levelling, but it feels so easy that it’s not a chore, it’s a carnival of carnage, and you’re swinging with the best of them.

Now, I decided to lead off with levelling, because it’s a grind just like any other, but it’s usually the one best disguised.  I say usually; sometimes they fail.  But it’s still a grind.

It’s after the levelling that I tend to be most aware of the grinds on offer.  This is natural, as I’m usually too distracted by gaining new stuff and awesome powarz! to care about having to kill a few meeeellions of piggies to get them.

It’s when the levelling is gone that I look about me, and try and find something fun to do.  Why?  Well, I’m not ready to finish playing the game, but I’m not about to sit around and do nothing but twiddle my thumbs (or re-organise my bank space aaaaaaagain) whilst waiting for the next expansion to come out.

All grinds offer a bribe.  “Partake of my grind, good player, and I shall reward you with this fine trez, of which you will find it the finest of good game tat!  Strike me down as a liar if it is not so!” For me, it’s a case of finding a grind that is fun to do, with a reward/bribe that is good enough to warrant spending all that time doing it.

Sometimes, they are thoroughly, fantastically and utterly hypnotically boring.  Of course, that can be a good thing; something that’s mindlessly comforting is nice after a bad day at work, or when life has been getting a little hectic.  Taking a few hours out to repeat the same actions again, and again, and again can be good for giving the soul a little break.

At the same time, the grind can be the spawn of evil.  I stopped grinding reputation in MMOs as part of my general gameplay because they all seemed to be the same, and none of them seemed to offer any fun game-play.  They’re all about the bribe, and usually the bribe just isn’t good enough.  Kill certain mobs long enough that you become part of their folk-lore (Be good and eat your roasted sentient creature, or Nasty Hawley will come and get you, little goblin!) or mug stuff for badges, rings, or whatever the item is.  Hand them in, get a tabard.  Or a piece of equipment that you’ll replace all too soon.  Or that isn’t as good as stuff you picked up whilst on the killing spree.

I can feel my toes curl up in remembered pain.  That’s because I said I’d *stopped* grinding reputation, not that I’d *never* ground reputation.  I’ll also say that for other players, collecting factions is a fun part of the game, but for me, it’s a no-no.  They like me, or they don’t.

Being definately older and at the very least slightly wiser than I used to be, I like to think I’m capable of seeing what is on offer, gauging what I’m liable to be doing to complete it, and deciding whether or not the grind on offer is something that will make me love playing a particular game more, or make me decide that I’ll never log in again.

Yet again, it’s all about the skill of the developers at creating an engaging, engrossing game to spend our time in.  A well-crafted grind is just as repetetive, takes just as long to complete as a badly crafted grind.  Yet it’s never boring, never soul-destroying.

It’s good game goo.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Will healing classes be Left 4 Dead?

November 9, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

Every so often, I sit and think about MMOs.  It’s usually whilst I’m holding a sizeable amount of tea in an unfeasibly large mug, and it’s the sort of pondering that sees other, more normal people, sort out The Big Things.  You know, The Big Things That Affect The World.

Of course, being a Geek (First Class), I think about geekish things.  To me, The Big Things That Affect The World are the sort of Cthuloid-scale entities that only exist in online worlds…

Recently, when tea-based pondering occurs, the subject of instanced dungeons keeps popping up.  To me, it’s no surprise, really.  There’s Cataclysm and all its new-and-old instances hiding just behind the horizon.  There’s Fallen Earth, and its perceived lack of “endgame” due to not having instanced dungeons similar to those in World of Warcraft.  There’s even speculation about next year’s offerings, with both Tha Seekrit Wurld and The Old Republic on my radar.

Of course, new games often means new speculation, and with that comes talk using dirty, dirty words like “innovation”, “originality” and “new”.

One of my pet triggers is when someone casually drops the H-Bomb.  Yeah, when a spokesmouth for the game says something along the lines of not needing healers.  How needing a healer makes Baby Buddha cry.  Oh, how my heart leaps at those times.  And the fangs come out, the hackles rise, and the urge to summon Great Things Of Terror (I know, I’m capitalising a lot today.  I hope it’s a fad I’ll pass through rapidly) to go and punish them for their temerity by eating all their biscuits, and weeing on their chips.  I *like* playing healers.

Now, I am getting better.  Part of it is conditioning.  It’s becoming such a commonly used concept in pre-launch hype that I’m getting used to it.

But I’ve also seen one future where there are no healers, and it’s not actually that bad.

I’ve spoken of it previously, and it is Left 4 Dead.  Or, if you’re like me, you’re with the cool kids in Left 4 Dead 2 which I have been lead to believe is the sequel.

Whenever I read that Dalaran is a bit like a lobby area, with players waiting for their instance to start up, I think of Left 4 Dead.  Each Campaign is like a multi-wing dungeon, and each involves 4 players in a journey from A to B, with a number of set-piece events, the gathering of trez, and the killing of lots of mobs and bosses along the way.

The mobs are zombies, the bosses are called Special Infected, the trez is largely guns and ammo, and the set-piece events are often less about defeating a big bad boss, and more about running, screaming and general headless-chickening (if you’re me.  You are probably cooler, and therefore more level-headed than I am).

So the concept is the same.  It’s in the level of detail that things change.

Part of that level of detail is the removal of a healing class.  I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a specific desire to remove the specific healing class from the game, more that there are *no* classes in the game.  Want to be melee?  Pick up and use a melee weapon.  Want to be ranged?  Why, choose from one of the many fine and reliable ranged weapons in the game.

Want to be a healer?  Concentrate on picking people up from the ground, maybe concentrate on keeping those zombies that slip through from munching on your team-mates, and always be ready with a med-kit for when one is needed.

Of course, there’s no helpful aggro mechanic, so whomever wants to be tank will find that they just need to get in the way a lot.  Or they can just realise that Left 4 Dead (or the sequel, indeed) is also a future where *all* roles have been abolished.

Well, all roles apart from that perennial cockroach, the DPS.

Yes, I can make that gag, I’ve played enough damage dealing classes in my time, and I love seeing a big number floating up from a monstie just as much as the next damage-dealing chap.  I’m just being all clever and ironic.  Or something.

Yet despite that loss of role, it’s pots of fun.  Zombies are the in thing, and there’s no surprise there.  After all, there are no zombie rights.  There’s no fear of offending the undead minority, or having to deal with the Right To Shamble lobbying groups.  Add in high-velocity firepower and cooking implements, and you have a winner.  It’s not glorifying violence, because it’s zombies!

Everyone is allowed to pick on zombies.

And even better than that, they can feel good whilst doing it.  The fact that you also get some great action, clever set pieces, and some clever game design means that the game is a lot of fun.

So there it is.  A party based instanced game, with not a single role in sight.  The game-play has been specifically created to enhance the playing experience, to the extent that whilst one might wish for a healer class or role within the game (heal spells on tap would make it *a lot* more easy), it is not required for success; health and healing is a resource that must be managed more overtly than it is in most MMOs.

Would an MMO without roles ever be created?  Will one survive?

There have been plenty of classless MMOs.  Star Wars Galaxies was one; skill-based, not class based.  But that still left people gravitating towards the role they preferred to play.  It just meant they could pick and choose exactly how much of a role they wanted to perform, within the framework of the game.  One could also say that the roles were still a required part of the PvE game.

Would a role-less game mean freedom?  Would it mean that all players would have the choice to do whatever they want, however they want?

Or would it mean that everyone was free to be just the same as everyone else?  That every single player is free to be *exactly* the same as everyone else; part of one homogenously bland whole?

I suppose that until someone makes a widely received MMO that is genuinely role-less, I’ll be drinking a lot of tea whilst attempting to fathom out whether such a game would be one I’d enjoy as an MMO, rather than a fun romp for a couple of hours every week or so.

I also suppose that with compelling and engrossing game-play, any sort of game is one that is both good, and fun.

Of course, the ability to gauge what is compelling and engrossing is most probably the most important skill of a games designer.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Shark-like

November 8, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Posted in General | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

After the Great Update for Lord of the Rings Online, I did indeed log in.  But whilst I felt that a number of screens had lost their previous air of genteel refinement in favour of a couple of rather loud and brash Cash Shop! buttons, all in all it seemed to be pretty much business as usual in Lotroburg.

Which is nice; whilst I might have an instinctive dislike of the Free-to-Play model, that doesn’t mean I will only be happy when hordes of subscription-less barbarians have put The Shire to the torch.

No, if anything, Lord of the Rings Online is *the* Free-to-Play game out there.  Put together out of loving box-price admission and brought to life with the whole premium subscription model, if there’s a game to play that is less likely to need to run the gamut of Free-to-Play conspiracy theories, it’s this one.

As it was though, I didn’t play long.  Right now, Lord of the Rings Online isn’t calling to me.  It’s got to deal with a resurgence of World of Warcraft and the old-school game-play of Fallen Earth, and is therefore coming in fourth in the MMO stakes, behind Eve Online.

That’s not to say I’ll never be back, just that right now the holiday continues.

What’s that?  The resurgence of World of Warcraft?

Aye.  What a difference a patch makes.  Firing up World of Warcraft after a few months’ absence as well as into the face of that new Patch 4 malarky meant some extreme confusion.  The new Talent Tree systems might be old news to everyone else, but for me they were scary-new.

Cue a short trip to Wowhead for a play with their talent calculators, and I realised what was going on.  Back to Skooge, then.

Now, I’d been one for moaning about Rogues in the past.  I know, I know, I try not to moan and whinge, and I fail.  Miserably.  I do try and be positive, but sometimes the teenager in me just wants to get out and make strange and unhappy shapes in the church of goth.

Ahem.  Back to Rogues.  Glass hammer, fantastic dps, but can’t even stand up in a light breeze.

I used to love playing a Rogue.  All that sneaking and shivving meant that most of the time when playing, it felt like I was some sort of hyperactive shark, cruising through the shallow waters of Azeroth, choosing my prey from amongst the happy-go-lucky mobs swimming in the shallow end.

There really was a feeling of cool; a Rogue had to be smart, and pick their battles wisely.  And when they attacked, it was in the form of a screaming ball of sharp and nasty pointy poisoned things, where a fight was won within the first 2 seconds.  If a fight lasted longer it was just because the mob was a bit tougher than most, but too stupid to realise it had already lost.

Then came the dark times.  The time when Blizzard seemed to be constantly ramping up the damage dealing capabilities of all the other classes, even to the point of surpassing the rogue; without a function other than deal damage, that’s when you know the love-affair is over.  Especially when the healer classes were out-damaging the Rogue…

Yeah, I know.  QQ moah, Rogue-boi (please forgive my attempts to emulate the patois of the leet masses.  My old age means I’m contractually obliged to make passing attempts to “get down with the kids” every so often, and fail feebly.  kthxbai).

My response was just to stop playing a Rogue.  Shamans killed stuff close up, and in addition had the whole range thing *and* healing; what’s not to like?  And, like all of the other classes, you could turn up to any given target-rich environment, and just start at one end and kill everything on the way to the other side with minimal waiting.

Unlike that poor, poor rogue.  The one that had to run away from the scary mobs that were adds, or who had to stop and eat after each fight because they took too much damage.  The one that either had top-of-the-tier gear and did well, or didn’t and failed.

It’s fun being a Shaman.  There is a lot of skill to playing the class well, but there’s also an element of being able to step through the swinging doors of the saloon John Wayne style, before clearing the room without breaking a sweat.

Rogues just can’t do that.

Well, they still can’t.  But I decided to go for an Assasination build, as a bit of a return to the Skooge of old.  And the carnage began.

In the time it took to learn what skills worked best in which situations, evil Recount told me my average dps had gone up by over 100.  No new gear, no levelling, just the change in the Patch.

For the first time in years, playing Skooge gave me that same “this is so cool” feeling.  Suddenly, every mob was a bunny wabbit, and I was the apex predator.  Strike from nowhere, and disappear just as rapidly leaving only a recently looted corpse as the only sign of anything happening.  It’s a heady feeling, really it is.

The skills are much nicer to use now, especially now that Blizzard have razor-sharpened the talents available:

  • Mutilate: the skill information recommends that you never use Sinister Strike again, and it’s right.  Mutilate is just wonderful, ensuring a high combo-point generation, with maximum stabbage.
  • Expose Armour: I just didn’t use Expose armour in the past.  Those combo points just seemed far better spent as extra damage, rather than the potential to do damage later.  In a game of more tactical combat such as Lord of the Rings Online such a skill would be useful.  But in the fast and frenetic world of five-clicks-and-death, extending your combat time to 7 or more clicks just seemed like the worst sort of crazy-talk.  But now, with the opportunity to have Expose Armour return the combo points spent on it, Expose Armour is the skill I now habitually use before Eviscerate or Envenom.  It truly has become the Prodigal Skill.  Yay!
  • Eviscerate/Envenom: This Autumn, fashion pundits are saying that big explodey finishing moves are back, and I for one am happy.  Kicking off a five point Eviscerate is as much fun as it was at level 2, if not more.  Nice!
  • Recuperate:  Well, if any skill was the World of Warcraft equivalent of Robbie Williams rejoining Take That, Recuperate is it.  Add in the ability to power it with those unused combo points still on the recently departed, and it’s as if Blizzard looked down from on high, and said; “Let there be less downtime between fights”.  It’s fantastic.  Sod the rationale for it, this skill means I can fill Skooge’s bags with looted trez, rather than whatever health-generating food is available in the local tavern.

These revelations have meant that I’m going through all the available Rogue skills, trying them out and seeing what works with Skooge’s build, what doesn’t, and what’s just a giggle to use.  It’s fun, and it’s refreshing.

Playing Skooge is *fun* again.

I know that Shaman Herewerd will remain my choice of character to play when Cataclysm…  erm, “cataclyses”? Azeroth, but Skooge will no longer be the ugly stupid kid kept under the stairs.

No, thanks to the changes to Rogues, Skooge will most likely be the go-to character when a change of pace is required.

That’s a great thing.  In all my questing for trez and levels, sometimes I forget about the sheer joy to be found in playing a character that’s just fun.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Of Waterfalls and Barrels

November 5, 2010 at 11:58 am | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

The last couple of months have flown by in a blur.  Having not been down the route of Getting Married before, the welcome advice of others who have doesn’t quite impart the sheer random craziness of the whole shebang.

This isn’t to say that the advice freely given was not gratefully welcomed, just that it’s hard to impart the exact feelings of going over a waterfall in a barrel to someone who hasn’t.

So, hopefully I can now move on, and get back to being a regular gaming geek, who rambles on the internet between playing a few MMOs.

Of course, just as I’m updating a few games, Lord of the Rings Online sends me an email to tell me that after all the waiting, the whole Free thing is starting.  I’m up-dating as I type.  Having finally decided to do more with That Twitter Thing than just see what Fallen Earth is doing, I decided to tell my two followers about it.

Of course, I have the security settings set up the wazoo, but that’s because I’ll be Twitting about more than just gaming.  Possibly.  I’m still not sure what to do with it.  For those interested, it’s @badjawa, and if you really want to hear the occasional 140 character rambles of a geek, you’ll need to send a request thingy.  It’s all rather embarrassing to me, this shameless self-promotion thing.  Which is probably why I’m so inept at it.  Please try not to look like a spammer if you do send a request.  Thanks.

So, back to the matter at hand.  I’m updating Lord of the Rings Online, and will just leap on in and *have a go*.  I shall even try to be honest to the point of  looking up “non-judgemental” in the dictionary, to see what that’s all about whilst I play.

I suppose it brings a new definition to the term “Free Peoples” (apologies if that’s a gag that’s already been repeated to death.  I’ve been away).

Cheers,
Hawley.

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