Monday, April 30, 2007

Throg's lotro adventures 30 April 2007: The Old Forest

The disease that struck down Throg and so many of his fellow adventurers passed as quickly as it came allowing Throg to offer his services to some of the hobbit's who had shown him such hospitality during his illness. The Shire of the hobbits may be a gentle place but the old forest that lies at the boundaries of their lands most certainly is not. The denizens of this forests include bears, wolves and giant spiders but perhaps the most troubling of all is that the trees themselves have become malevolent and have developed the ability to bludgeon unwary passers by with their branches. Little wonder that the gentle hobbits of Buckland had need of a worthy dwarf adventurer to deal with the dangers of such a place. Throg's first venture into the forest was not entirely glorious - he blundered into a glade of elite malevolent oak trees. Perhaps enraged by the sight of Throg's axe one of these took an instant dislike to our good dwarf and set about battering him. Throg's axe inflicted a heavy price on this unnatural tree but it proved too strong for our noble hero and he was forced to retreat from the forest. Realising that he would get nowhere without a map to this forest maze Throg asked the hobbit's if they knew of someone who could provide one. The good minstrel Tobold directed him to the talented map makers Messers Brasse & co. where he found an excellent chart to guide him though the leafy paths.

Lotro Journal 30 April 2007: A brief history of Throg

No adventures to report today as poor Throg has succumbed to an unpleasant ague that appears to have afflicted most of the population of Eriador. I thought I would take this opportunity to fill you on some of Throg's personal history and how he came to choose the life of an adventurer.

A good place to start is with his name. Throg is not a usual name for a dwarf and indeed it is not his given name. His given name is Throgli and he hails from a long line of Throglis, miners of iron in the Blue Mountains. Throg does not use his given name any more. He has chosen to be called Throg ever since he was a child who's beard was not yet long enough to touch the ground. The reason for his choice is connected to his choice of profession and that is the story I will now tell.

As a child sporting a half grown beard Throgli was unfortunate to be gifted with a particular bandiness of the legs. Three of the older children, cruel as only children can be, chose to latch on to this trait and taunt young Throgli with the nickname "Throg the Frog". Their abuse did not stop at name calling. Being older and stronger than Throgli they bullied him unmercifully, stealing those of his childish possessions they had use for and destroying the rest.

Young Throgli was distraught. He knew that a dwarf of the blue mountains did not give in to intimidation but most of his family were deep in the mines on a prospecting trip of several months duration and he did not think he had the ability to tackle his tormentors alone. In desperation he decided to consult his great uncle Halcin a dwarf who had lost much favour in the eyes of the family when he forsook the mines to go adventuring about Erid Luin. Then over 250 years old Halcin had retired from adventuring and taken up residence in Thorin's halls. On hearing of Throg's difficulties Halcin's solution was to set Throg to training with wooden axe, sword and club. Throgli had to endure the abuse of his tormentors for many days more but each evening he practised blows and counter blows under Halcin's careful tuition.

As he practised his strokes Throgli felt new strength grow his muscles and new confidence grow in his heart. Halcin did not name day when Thogli was ready to face up to his abusers but when that day came Throgli knew.

When our three fine rascals came upon the youngster that morning they paid little heed to the stout walking stick he was carrying. Indeed why would they worry? Each on his own was bigger and stronger than Throgli. Throgli chose to open the conversation not with words but with a sharp thwack of heavy end of his stick on a particulalry sensitive region of the strongest of his foes.

Among certain peoples such a blow is considered un-chivalrous but dwarves adopt a pragmatic approach to chivalry. To Throgli's mind the fact that there were three of them and only one of him justified much. Indeed it is well known that aiming for that same region is a common tactic among dwarves when fighting members of the oversized races. They justify this as a natural consequence of the difference in height. The fact that it produces instantly debilitating agony in their foe is seen as a bonus.

With one combatant curled into a howling ball the odds were a little better for Throgli but still not comforting. Now alerted, his two remaining adversaries bore down upon him intent on making him pay dearly for his presumption. They had not had the coaching of a master fighter though and their fumbling lunges were blocked and parried with swift strikes of Throgli's club. Moreover they were made to pay for their failed attempts as Throgli's counter-strokes extracted a terrible retribution. Soon it was all over and three bruised and suffering dwarf rapscallions lay at Throgli's feet. As they cowered on the ground to avoid the awful vengeance of that terrible stick one of the three peered through blurring eyes and stammered: "Who.... who are you?"

Our hero stopped and thought for a minute before replying with his weapon held high (high for a dwarf that is):

"I am THROG. Throg the CHAMPION and I shall grow to be the most famous adventurer in all of Middle Earth."

Throg's Lotro Journal 30 April 2007: A Sojourn In The Shire.

In order to get to Bree-Land from Ered Luin Throg had to pass through the gentle land of the Shire. The Shire is a scenic haven populated mainly by hobbits. While hobbits are of normal stature they appear to be in general less muscular than dwarves and you couldn't imagine a hobbit having the strength to wield a battle axe. The good hobbits of the shire showed great hospitality to our dwarven friend and he can certainly attest to the merits of their pies and ale. Throg was less taken with the obsessive smoking of pipeweed. Certain older dwarves have taken to the habit but when a friendly tavern-keep tempted Throg to try a pipe of his finest weed poor Throg was given to coughing and spluttering for a good five minutes. Once the coughing subsided the vapours from the pipe did engender a certain mellow calm and gave Throg a new insight into why the hobbits are such a peaceloving folk.

Mellow calm is all very well for farmer hobbits but not the stuff for a dwarf champion in search of treasure and adventure. Compared to the rugged mountainous beauty of Ered Luin the shire is a scenic rustic idyll. Far from the goblins, bears and bandits that one encounters in the wilds of his homeland the most dangerous creatures Throg had to deal with in the Shire were a swarm of stinging gnats. The Shire is a beautiful place to rest awhile but Throg chose not to stay too long for fear that such peaceful calm (not to mention the ale and pipeweed) would dull his adventurer's instincts.

Throg could not concieve of any great adventure starting in this oasis of tranquillity. At the back of his mind he recalls some reference to a hobbit who assisted the great Thorin Okenshield in the defeat of the dreadful dragon Smaug. It sounds unlikely. Perhaps his recollection is flawed. As a lad he always paid more attention to the battles and treasure than to the bit players in these stories. In truth Throg could not conceive of any great tale of stirring adventure starting off in this peaceful place.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

29th April 2004 Throg's Lotro Journal: Leaving Home

Today has been a momentuous day for Throg. After joining a fellowship to assist Avorthal clear the Goblins from Rath Teraig (Assault on Rath Teraig) he has made his mind up to leave his homeland of Eruid Luin and base himself instead in the land of Bree. Eruid Luin will always have a place in Throg's heart but as a level 15 champion Throg felt he had outgrown the place and little remained there to challenge him.

In sharp contrast to the symmetric simplicity of Thorin's gate Bree is a confusing sprawl of a town. Poor Throg is struggling to get his bearings among the mess of streets, walls, gates and alleys. The folk who require the assistance of an adventurer reel off place names that are completely meaningless to him. He is currently looking for an inn called the Prancing Pony where he hopes to find information on the whereabouts of a Ranger by the name of Strider. Throg doesn't know for sure what this is all about but the involvement of the great wizard Gandalf makes him think this could be the start of something very important. Just the thing to inspire a stout-hearted young champion.

A very happy coincidence of his move to Bree was the chance to meet the renowned champion Ultan Foebane. Throg was bold enough to ask Ultan for advice on improving his champion abilities. Ultan adheres to the "Throw them in the deep end" school of teaching and his training for Throg consisted of sending our friend to defeat three sturdy villains (A Blade of Renown). Throg triumphed in all three encounters. THe villains were tough but to tell the truth actually finding each of them was the hardest part of this quest. Ultan was impressed with Throgs effort,s and rewarded him with a very nice Axe and by coaching him in the trait of Viscious Strikes. This is Throg's first class specific trait and one only available to champions who have reached the 15th level.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Thoughts on Lotro Repair Bills

Lotro has high repair bills for amour and weapons damaged in combat. After many complaints turbine have patched the game to reduce repair costs somewhat (not sure if this patch is implemented in Europe yet) but the basic principle of high repair costs still remains. As Throg pointed out in his advice on minimising repair bills many items are cheaper to replace than repair. I am not too bothered. In my experience stuff doesn't degrade all that quickly. Unless you play recklessly and die a lot most stuff lasts just about long enough till you get a replacement. Tobold made the same observation in his blog a while back.

In fact I think this is a really interesting game design decision with intriguing implications for the game economy. Think about it IT IS CHEAPER TO REPLACE THAN REPAIR. This creates a constant demand for new stuff. That will hopefully stimulate a healthy crafting economy. Throg is still levelling up and is naturally replacing his stuff fairly regularly anyway but I wonder how this will pan out at the level cap. Is end game progression going to be based solely on itemisation as in World of Warcraft? If so players will probably struggle to pay high repair bills on the irreplaceable precious items they have accumulated. On the other hand if progression is not so dependent on irreplaceable rare items then perhaps players will be happy to buy their gear from high level crafter's use it till it wears out and then buy replacements. Weapon and armour become consumables and the crafting economy thrives.

Lotro 28th April 2007: Throg is a cheat!!!

Poor Throg has been accused of cheating!!! Screen-shot here:
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and here:
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to prove it.

I put my hands in the air and admit: "It's a fair cop guv". So before you assign me to that particular dustbin reserved for players who have been caught cheating please let me explain myself. The mini instance "Rescue by Moonlight" is on the Epic Quest line so you need to complete it to progress. You have to fight your way the port of Kheledul to rescue Avothol from the Dourhands. It is full of level 11 and 12 elite Dourhands - so at level 15 Throg had no real trouble going through the mission with a fellowship group. Unfortunately due to some hiccup which I don't yet understand I didn't complete the quest despite completing the mission and now I have to do it again. At level 15 Throg can solo a level 12 elite so I thought I'd try going back alone. Moreover I had been through this port prior to the mission and I knew there was a network of canals that would allow me to swim around most of the guards to get straight to the location of Avothol. I snuck into the port, dived into the canal and got the warning message you have just seen.

Pretty impressive in some respects. Turbine have clearly implemented some form of automatic "Exploit Detection" which detects if players are trying to cheat. The detection seems to be based on the fact that I had got into a position where the mob couldn't reach me.

Unfortunately in this case the exploit detection is incredibly immersion breaking - I am trying to sneak into a guarded port by night why on earth would I not try to avoid the guards by swimming along the canal. I should point out that this canal has steps into it so it pretty much invites you to use it.

I can't complain too much because at least I got a warning and an opportunity to rectify the situation before before being booted out but it is a pity this exploit detection is such a blunt instrument.

EDIT: I went through that mission again last night with a fellowship. I managed to complete but another member of my fellowship didn't complete the quest despite going through the whole mission with us and clicking everything. Perhaps this quest is bugged.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Newsflash: New York Times Scooped by MBP

About a week ago I posted an article about an bit of improvised research that I did on the relative success (or failure) of next generation consoles in Ireland. As an aside to that piece I mentioned that from my observations in game shops PC gaming appears to be making a comeback. Well apparently the New York times thinks so too. It's not every day that you scoop one of the world's most prestigious journals! NYT actually gives Microsoft and their Games for Windows initiative a lot of the credit. I wondered whether or not confusion caused by the next gen console wars might be the reason.

Whatever the reasons as a dyed in the wool PC gamer I am delighted. You can keep you game pad and cheating auto-aim. Real men get headshots with mouse and keyboard control.

Re-inventing the wheel

The world is in a tizzy over the prospects of climate change caused by the increasing concentration of green house gases in our atmosphere. Carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are the main culprit. Back in the 1970's I had to learn the concentration of various gases in our atmosphere for junior chemistry and I still remember that CO2 was 0.03%. Today that figure is closer to 0.04%. That's a pretty big increase in 30 years so you might imagine that a new invention aimed at capturing dioxide from the air would be a good thing. Global Resarch Technologies claim to have invented just such a device . Yet I am not convinced. For one thing where is the energy to manufacture and power these things going to come from - and will generating that energy not entail even further emissions of CO2? For another thing the device claims to produce a pure stream of Carbon Dioxide from the air. What exactly will be done with this CO2? My real objection though comes from a nagging feeling that I am sure I have already heard about a device that does this. Something that extracts CO2 from the atmosphere, that runs on solar power with no harmful emissions and stores the carbon in a compact environmentally friendly way. Oh yes, I remember now - here is a picture of one of these remarkable carbon sequestering devices.

Lotro Journal 26 April 2007 - Throg wants to feel special

Relaxing in the tavern last night after a hard day's questing Throg was witness to a heated argument between two of his fellow adventurer's. It started when one sturdy hunter who was a little in his cups boasted about the fine job he had done one week earlier clearing cave claws out of Rockbelly pit for the good dwarf Orodin. A younger adventurer, perhaps inadvisably, chose this moment to butt in: "You couldn't have done such a good job for just last night Orodin asked me to go and kill the cave claws you left behind."

Brawls in dwarf taverns are hardly an uncommon sight but Throg was feeling a warm glow from the ale and in his contemplative mood the subject matter of this spat set him thinking.

Why is it he wondered that every adventurer he meets on his travels seems to have an almost identical history of feats and accomplishments. Indeed when he talks to a fellows of similar age to himself it often turns out that they are embarked on exactly the same commisions as himself. Oft-times this can be handy. Many an impromptu fellowship has been formed from just such a chance meeting of adventurers. Such a fellowship can achieve as a group that which could not be accomplished alone. Just last night Throg joined up with such a worthy party to wreak bloody revenge on the dourhand dwarf Skithi Blackhand for the murder of the brother of Askell of Gondamon (Vow of Vengenace). Throg doubts he could have taken the dwarf alone and was glad of the company. Askell was not stinting in his gratitude - rewarding each member of the fellowship in equal measure.

Adventurers come and adventurers go so one can hardly blame the citizens of Eriador for sending several fellows out on exactly the same mission simply to ensure that the job gets done. It would be nice though, thought Throg, to have some missions that were personal to one self. Surely the fates could contrive to introduce some small element of variety between adventurers' paths. At the humblest level where one fellow is sent out to fetch 10 bat claws perhaps the next might be asked instead for cave claw talons. Indeed why do the fates not grant each adventurer with their own personal epic quest objectives - perhaps to slay a particular villain or to find a particular long lost treaure. Throg does not think that this would require any great increase in the number of villains or treasures in the world because for example a character that is part of the normal sequence of adventures for all aspiring heroes might be the personal sworn nemesis of one particular wanderer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Throg's first horse ride.

Our dwarven friend had saved up enough silver to afford a little treat last night. He decided to try the new pony riding service from Thorin's Hall. The journey itself was thrilling but uneventful. For someone who is used to waddling along four feet off the ground the speed and exhilaration of a ride on a galloping horse is quite something. Unfortunately there was some unpleasantness with the stable-master in Thorin's gate. He wanted to charge Throg 12 silver to travel to his intended destination of Gondamond yet Throg saw others being charged only 10 silver to travel to the more distant destination of Duillond. Even when Throg pointed out that the Duillond route passes right by Gondamon the man refused to lower his price. Clearly this huckster was trying to cheat our young friend but I am happy to say that Throg had the last laugh. He paid 10 silver and jumped on a horse bound for Duillond before the shyster realised what was happening. As the horse sped past Gondamon Throg slipped his feet from the stirrups and rolled off the saddle onto the ground. A rough landing certainly but no bones broken. Whether or not the horse made it to it's intended destination is unknown but it serves that crooked stable-master right if the riderless beast was never seen again.

Throg's lotro journal 25 April 2007: Saving money on repairs.

Our would be champion dwarf hit 13 last night but sad to say he has not yet learned to watch his back. He is licking his wounds from two defeats at the hands of the Dourhand dwarves in Kheledul (The fourth Gear quest). At level 12 Throg could handle one or two LVL 11 dwarves but three were just too many. He really should refrain from adventuring in darkness for it is all too easy to blunder into more than one can handle. The dents in Throg's pride from these defeats are nothing compared to the gaping holes left in his armour so our dwarf friend is spending a lot ot time at the menders. Repairs don't come cheap and Throg has picked up a few tips for minimising repair bills that he is happy to share with fellow adventurers:

Throg's first rule of repairing is never ever use the "Repair All" button. This is a slick sales gimmick by the trader to try to get you to repair stuff you don't actually need. After an evening adventuring your bags are likely to be full of dented weapons and armour which may fetch a few shillings from a vendor. Clicking repair all will rack up a hefty bill for fixing these BUT generally the cost of the repair is more than you will get from selling the repaired item. Never repair something that you intend to sell soon - it just isn't worth it.

Throg's second rule is to be very choosy about the magical tems you carry and equip. Magical items incur a very hefty repair cost and unless they convey substatial benefits may not be worth wearing. A case in point was an earing of increased will which Throg sported for some time. Will increases an adventurers power reserves - nice by not essential for a champion. Throg realised that this one earing was costing several silver pieces on each visit to the repair shop so he decided he could live without it. It now resides in his bank vault and our dwarf has not noticed its absence.

Throg's third rule is not to repair items that have more than 25 points of durability. An item is not going to lose this amount of durability in one encounter so you will get a chance to repair it later if really need be. More importantly an adventurer will inevitably find better equipment in his or her travels and leaving repairs till the last minute increases the likelyhood of finding a replacement. Throg makes an exception for his gathering tools because you never know when a profitable ore node or pile of wood will turn up and it would be a shame to lose out on account of a broken tool.

Throg's fourth rule is to consider replacement rather than repair. It is often possible to buy a better item on the auction house for not much more than the cost of a repair. The disposable age has come to Middle Earth and Replace rather than Re-use is the new Mantra.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Naked Miners in Eriador

Throg has heard of prospectors who mine ores full time for a living. Apparently the most dedicated prospectors eschew armour and head out almost naked into the wilds. The thought of these miners braving the elements in their underwear makes Throg Chuckle. They claim that this is because armour would hinder their work and slow them down but Throg suspects that parsimony is their real motive and that these exhibitionists are simply too mean to pay repair bills. I don't think our sturdy dwarf will be modelling his long johns in public any time soon. For one thing they have seen neither air nor water in at least five years and for another Throg may be stout of heart but he is small of stature. He prefers to rely on the thickness of his breastplate rather than the swiftness of his little legs to keep him alive in the wilderness.

Throg's LOTRO Journal 24April 2007

Poor Throg has little to report today as he is licking his wounds from a series of bad beatings last night. He set off an a simple enough quest to clear out some spiders from the region of Rath Teraig. Unfortunately he let himself get distracted and on no less than two separate occasions was jumped and chased off by some very poweful elite Goblins. You would think that two hidings in one day would be enough to teach our doughty dwarf some sense but he went back for more. This third time he avoided the goblins but as it was dark he blundered into the spiders' lair and came across the spider matriarch. This level 15 elite chewed him up and spat him out. We can be thankful that dwarf flesh is not to a spider's taste so Throg lives to tell the tale but his armour is pretty badly dented. Our poor dwarf was horrified to learn how much silver it would cost him in repairs particularly for his magical items. In his hasty escape from the spider den he stumbled across the Elven Oasis of Duillond. Elves do not normally have much time for dwarves but some news of Throg's exploits must have spread even here and he find himself tolerated.

On happier note Throg made his first few sales on the auction house and despite my scepticism he managed to turn a profit on these transactions. A good thing too as the cash will be needed to pay for his armour repairs. Prices in the auction house are still generally low but Throg did notice that copper ore is selling for 2 silver a piece, more than four times what vendors are offering. This presents him with something of a dilemma. He needs the ore himself to skill up his prospecting skill but the lure of easy money is tempting.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lotro: Which subscription package

I am definitely going to continue my adventures in Tolkienland by purchasing and subscribing to the retail package available from tomorrow. The question is which subscription package should I opt for? Turbine are offering a one time opportunity for pre-order customers to purchase a life time subscription to lotro for €149. This compares with a regular monthly fee of €9.99 for pre-order customers or €14.99 for later subscribers. Given that I have never played one game for longer than 6 months founder membership is almost certainly a bad deal for me, particularly as further discounts are likely to be available for 3 month and 6 month subscriptions. Nevertheless I am considering founder membership and here is why.

I guess I feel that not having a monthly subscription will change the way I play the game and may in fact increase my enjoyment of it. The once off purchase will be a sunk cost and once it is paid I can choose to play or not play as I see fit. I will be free to pick up the game or leave it at will. I really enjoyed my time playing Guild Wars and one of the best things for me was that I never felt under any pressure to play and not having a monthly fee was an important part of this. I could play if I felt like it or not. Even though the amount is small I feel that having an ongoing monthly subscription will create a subconscious pressure to keep playing: "I have paid for this month - so I may as well get value from it". It is almost as if every moth I will have to mentally decide whether or not I am going to keep playing this game.

On the other hand I could get a similar freedom by purchasing a 6 month subscription - and if past experience is anything to go by 6 months is likely to be as long as I will last in the game. Also the monthly subscription could be a life-saver if I ever feel that I need to stop playing the game. I played World of Warcraft solidly for about four months before deciding that it was time to stop. Stopping my monthly subscription was a key symbolic gesture for me and really helped move my mind on. It took me about 2 weeks to come down to the point where I no longer wanted to play and since then I have never wanted to go back. If lotro ever became a problem to the point where I neede to stop playing the lack of a monthly fee woud remove the possiblity of making that symbolic gesture. Of course it is only a symbolic gesture - it is always possible to re-suscribe.

Decisions, decisions. I guess Ill decide tomorrow when I open the shrink wrap.

Throg's LOTRO journal 23 April 2007

Edit: Oops this entry is being posted a little late - I somehow managed to leave it in drafts for a couple of days. It will probably appear out of sequence.

As an aspiring champion Throg is at his happiest cleaving heads off shoulders and generally causing mayhem. The more refined arts of crafting and commerce are not exactly his thing. It wasn't too much of a surprise then when he called into a smith to repair the dents and scrapes in his armour to find that he had barely enough coins to cover the 20 silver bill. Luckily his bags were full of junk that he had picked up off the battle field and vendors seemed happy enough to pay him for assorted toes and bones. I have no idea who actually uses this stuff. Perhaps they end up on a string around some gentle townfolks neck as a kind of good luck charm, who knows. Throg may be tough but he is not completely dumb and he realises that he needs a more stable source of income to finance his adventures so he devoted some time to skilling up his foresting and prospecting abilities. Throg choose the explorer vocation because he figured he could combine this easily enough with adventuring - gathering the materials as he find them in his travels. He also reckoned it would be impossible to lose money picking stuff up for free and selling it. In this he is correct but he overlooked the fact that skilling up a profession costs time and money and without the requisite level of skill he won't be abe to extract higher quality resources. Happily he managed to get to apprentice propector by converting the copper ore he had mined into copper ingots with no additional money involved. Unfortunately he couldn't make head nor tail of the new fangled superior forges in Thorin's Gate and had to trek all the way to Gondamon to find a simpler forge he could use. This is a particular nuiscance because there is no bank vault in Gondamon and he had to carry all the materials there himself. At least he could use the workbenches in Thorin's gate to boil the light leather hides he had found. Again boiling leather costs nothing so it offers a way to skill up cheaply.

In his travels Throg came across some recipes and ingredients that were of no use to him. Against my better judgement he decided to try his luck selling them on the auction house. I am all for selling at a profit but auction houses have only recently come to Eriador. There seems to be far more sellers than buyers at the moment with the consequence that prices are extremely low. I worry that Throg will lose more in deposits and commission than he gains on sales. Perhaps later when the public have got used to the idea prices will rise. At least I managed to convince Throg to check what items buyers were actually bidding for before adding his wares to the list. There is no point adding yet another lot of copper ingots when there are already 20 for sale and no bidders for any of them. I have some experience of buying and selling on auction houses in other lands and I counselled Throg to always set a carefully chosen buyout price based on what buyers are bidding for similar goods. Hopefully he heeds at least some of my advice and avoids losing his shirt.

After all of fevered bout of economic activity Throg has the grand total of 70 silver in his purse. This is not a fortune but it is enough to finance the continuing adventures of a level 11 champion. I have heard that famers have recently been enjoying bumper yields and earning profits as high as 100 silver per hour. Rumour has it that a terrible blight is sweeping in from the western lands however. By all accounts this blight has devastated farm yields and renders it nigh impossible for farmers to turn a profit.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

22 April 2007 Throg's continuing adventures in Tolkien land

Another day another level. Throg retired for the night after adventuring his way up to level 10. He has pretty much finished all available quests around Thorin's Gate region and the Vale of Thrain including his first fellowship quest - clearing the Goblins out of a ruined fortress near Nogland (Villains in the Vale). Our aspiring hero soloed the majority of the goblins (level 7 as opposed to Throg's level 9) but thought better than to tackle the elite level 9 chieftain on his own. Luckily a fellow adventurer agreed to join Throg in a fellowship to take the dastard down.

Now circumstances have brought our young champion to the mighty dwarf fortress of Gondamon. This place was originally built by the elves I believe but has long since been refashioned by the dwarves to the needs of a race of smaller stature. The area around Gondamon abounds with villains and monsters of level 10 and higher so I have no doubt Throg will find work for his trusty axe here and indeed his quest log is full again. Unfortunately his plan to focus on gathering at the expense of crafting has hit a hitch. It turns out that he lacks the skill to gather these ores in this region and it seems to only way to learn this skill involves processing the ores he has gathered earlier. Ah well - at least he did not vendor them but it looks like he will soon be spending some hours toiling over a hot forge.

Lotro has a potentially useful feature that allows you to show a list of current quests on the right hand side of the screen. Clinking the ring beside a quest opens the quest log for more details on that quest. Sadly the feature is not as helpful as it sounds as it only shows the last five or so quests you picked up and these are unlikely to be the quests you want to complete first. On the other hand the quest log in lotro is generally excellent with useful directions and the ability to view the complete quest history.
EDIT: I have just figured out that by right clicking on the ring you can lock a quest to this list or remove it. Also in the main quest log you can add quests to the list to be displayed. This makes the feature very useful.

I am still annoyed with the inability to adjust user interface scaling. For the last couple of days I played at 1024 x 768. As this is not native resolution for my LCD display the image was a bit fuzzy but at least the buttons were a better size. Unfortunately the scaling of other on screen objects isn't right even at 1024x768. In a fight the target enemies health bar overlaps Throg's for example making it hard to see how he is doing. Reluctantly I have switched back to 1280x1024 and will have to resign myself to squinting.

At level 10 Throg can learn to use two handed weapons. The choice between dual wielding versus using a big two hander is not obvious. It appears that dual wielding will give more raw dps while a two hander will give more skill based damage but there are hidden compensating factors. The geek in me has come to the fore and I plan to run more tests to ascertain the game mechanics behind each choice.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

LOTRO Dual Wield Damage Penalty

One of the characteristics of the champion in Lotro is the ability to dual wield weapons. Turbine make a lot of this in their description of the character. Quote:
"Champions can use various weapon styles, but focus on using two weapons simultaneously."

This is not obvious from the champion skill set however because some key champion skills give additional damage depending on the main hand weapon damage per hit. An extreme case is Brutal strikes which gives damage of 3 x main weapon damage plus a bonus. Obviously a big slow two hander will do better here than two smaller single hand weapons. Turbine recognised this issue in patch 1.12 and tried to rebalance by reducing the fervor requirement for Savage Strikes and Brutal strikes by one point when dual wielding. I cannot say whether this has balanced the skill based damage between one and two handers but it does go some way towards addressing it.

A more basic question is whether or not the raw DPS of dual wield is more or less than the raw DPS of a big two hander. Typically dual wield weapons do less damage than an equivalent level one hander but more than half the damage. For example a lvl 8 white quality one hand short sword does 3.8 dps. A lvl 9 white quality two handed great sword does 4.6 dps. If there is no penalty for dual wielding then the double attacks from dual wield will do more damage than a two hander. Off hand penalties are common in RPG games but I could find no reference to one in the game literature or on the forums so I set about conducting my own experiment. Early tests with various weapon types indicated strongly that an offhand penalty does exist but it was possible that different weapon speeds and other variables were disguising the results so I decided to do a more rigorous test. I bought two identical Steel Banded Maces (Speed 2.3, DPS 2.8 (5-8 damage), Small Chance to Stun) and sent my level 9 dwarf champion to the western part of Thorin's Gate to observe the results of hitting level 5 Young Aurochs. I chose the Aurochs because they have no debuffs to interfere with results and I made sure to always pick level 5 targets. I chose the maces because they were cheap and they do not interfere with armour or hit chance.

I recorded a total of 29 single wield attacks and a total of 31 dual wield attacks (62 hits). The unadjusted average damage from the 29 single wield attacks was 7.7 and the unadjusted damage from the dual wield was 5.6 for main hand and 5.3 for off hand. However these results were strongly affected by random failures due to blocks, evades and misses. I do not believe that I have a large enough sample to allow for these so I adjusted the averages to take out the failed attacks. The average damage for successful attacks was 9.3 for the single wield main hand, 7.6 for dual wield main hand and 5.9 for dual wield off hand. These figures agree well with the most commonly observed hits in each case (the mode). The most commonly observed values were: Single Wield main hand: 9, Dual Wield Main Hand: 8, dual wield off hand: 6. Remember that identical weapons were used in main and off hand tests.

Although my sample is not particularly large it seems certain that there is a damage penalty for both main and off hands while dual wielding. The observed reduction in damage for successful attacks was 18% reduction for the main hand and 36% reduction for the off hand when dual wielding.

My tests suggest that there may also be a reduced chance to hit for dual wielding but I have do not have enough data to conclusively confirm this.

While conducting these tests I also noticed that single wield off hand does not appear to work. Even though the off hand weapon is visible in the fight animation the weapon seems to be ignored in the damage calculation and only fist damage is recorded.

Edit: A Poster to Codemaster's Lotro forums questioned the validity of my results in this piece. He or she was rather rude so I was going to ignore them but perhaps they were just having a bad day so instead I will give them the benefit of the doubt and clarify my results. Firstly please note that these results refer to auto-attack damage only. I don't think a statistical test needs to be done for skill damage because the skill description tells you the damage in both single and dual wield cases. My tests say nothing about failure rate (miss block etc) and a much larger sample would be required to be able to say something useful about this. The good news is that the standards error in each of my tests is between 2% and 3% so the conclusions with respect to damage reduction can be relied on to a high degree.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Throg's Lotro Journal 20 April 2007

Would be dwarf champion Throg is taking a well earned rest after adventuring his way to within spitting distance of level 9. Most of his progress came through questing in the Vale of Thrain. Throg went there initially on the advice of Tindr to warn the citizens of Noglon about possible water shortages but once there he found work clearing the vale of wild cats, bears and goblins. It was in the Vale that our sturdy dwarf first tasted the bitter sweet tang of defeat. Spurred on by overconfidence he made the mistake of tackling three Goblins at once. Poor Throg got a right pounding and was forced to run for his life. That defeat has cost him the chance of gaining an "undefeated" title but to be honest I think it is for the best. Far from being cowed by the experience he has learned from it and has become at once more sensible and yet more courageous. Having been defeated once and living to tell the tale he is no longer afraid to take a risk when the potential reward justifies it. I am pleased to say that Throg proved his mettle after honing his skills a bit. He went back to the same goblin encampment and slew the three miscreants. At three against one it was a tough battle but with the aid of a morale boosting essence Throg's axe and sword won the day.

The vale turned out to be an excellent place for Throg to to try out his recently learned explorer skills and he returned to Thorin's Hall with a bag full of copper, alder wood and tin. Throg has the option of processing these materials to produce higher grade ingots and wood but a quick survey of the auction house indicates that prices for trade goods are still extremely erratic and it is far from clear as to whether not further processing will earn him a profit. With a dwarf's nose for gold Throg has decided to bank his raw materials until prices stabilise.

For my part I am still learning about the game. I figured out that that the quest log uses a colour scheme to indicate difficulty but I still amn't sure of the sequence. I think the order is grey, green, light blue, dark blue, white and yellow in terms of increasing difficulty. Unfortunately I didn't figure this out until after I had done all the white quests on my list thinking they were the easier ones to do first. Now I have a bunch of blues to complete and I hope I still get decent XP for them. I really need to read the manual - I downloaded a pdf version from here.

I have got my first "group" quest to clear out the goblin "Villains in the Vale". These group quests are apparently great fun so I will try pugging it tomorrow.

In other news Turbine have just announced a free expansion for June. Given that the game hasn't even been released yet this is very encouraging, particularly since they say that this will be the "first of many free updates". The expansion will be called "Shores of Evendim" with key features:
  • Discover the lands of Evendim
  • Explore over 60 new Quests
  • Raid in the Battle for Helegrod
  • Fight against 9 new monsters
  • Upgraded music system adds new instruments and lets you share your music with others
  • Equip collectible Armor Sets
I am delighted to see that Turbine are taking a leaf from Guild Wars in providing "Vanity" rewards such as hard to get titles and collectible armour sets. Rewards like this give hard core players something to aim for without creating barriers to progression for casual players in the way that the tiered armour sets of World of Warcraft do. I have previously discussed this issue at more length under the heading of "Artificially Creating Value".

The Console Wars - An Irish perspective.

I am cheating here. I originally wrote this as an email to Bill Harris in response to his blog comments on PS3 sales figures but then I thought I may as well use it to pad out my own fairly lack-lustre blog. Anyway it would seem that PS3 is crashing and burning on a worldwide scale.

I am not a console gamer but I really hope the situation isn't as disastrous for Sony as sales figures suggest. I will always be grateful to Sony for their inspired Playstation advertising campaigns which were the first that I am aware of to recognise that intelligent adults play games.

I live in Ireland on the periphery of Europe and I have tried to get a local perspective to complement the figures that Bill gives for for Japan and the USA but I am afraid I don't have great sources. I have managed to put together a picture from games sales charts and combining that with my own obervations seems to present a slightly different picture to that in the US.

Latest game sales charts for Ireland are given by Chart Track here . As I am not a suscriber I can't see much detail but by correlating the overall entertainment software chart with the individual console charts I can draw the following conclusions:

1. The top 20 is dominated by PC, Handheld and PS2 titles.
2. One PS3 title makes it into the top 20 at number 18.
3. No Xbox360 or Wii title makes it into the top 20

I haven't accounted for cross platform games in my conclusions but as the top selling titles for 360 and Wii have not made the list I am guessing that their contribution to high selling cross platform games like Tiger Woods 07 has been small.

My own observations from visiting game shops matches the above. PS2 and handhelds continue to get the Lion's share of shelf space. Xbox 360 has a presence but is effectively only displacing the space that used to be occupied by Xbox. PS3 is relatively new and still has less shelf space than XBOX360 but more than Wii. In sharp contrast to the US experience Wii appears to be going nowhere in Ireland. One interesting side note is that the current uncertainty over the outcome of the console wars is benefiting PC gaming. For several years the shelf space devoted to PC gaming has been shrinking but in the last few months this trend seems to have stopped and even reversed.

You should know that Ireland had one of the highest concentrations of PS2 ownership in the world. There is a huge amount of almost fanatical brand loyalty. I talked to a number of PS2 fans who really want PS3 to succeed and have almost no thought for any other console. Price is a major dificulty however and until PS3 comes down to a more achievable price level PS2 will continue to outsell it.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lotro notes 19 April 2007

After a day of server down time I eventually got to adventure with Throg again last night. Biting the bullet my doughty dwarf accompanied Dwalin to the Skorgrims Tomb instance. Skorgrim is thoroughly bad egg from olden days who was about to be re-incarnated. Fighting shoulder to shoulder with the mighty dwarf Dwalin Throg did his best to stop this arcane rite. Sadly they were too late but they did manage to run Skorgrim and his dourhands out of Ered Luin. No doubt we shall meet the evil Skorgrim again but for the moment all is peace and harmony in Ered Luin.

Completing this instance graduates Throg from the introductory sequence into the game proper. The first thing he did was visit the mighty dwarf city of Thorin's Gate. Coming from humble origins Throg was overawed by this underground metropolis but I however got a strange feeling of deja vu. An underground dwarf city with auction house, bank, mechants and trainers. Yup it was like being back in Ironforge from World of Warcraft once again. Thorin's gate actually feels a lot smaller than Ironforge and thankfully (for the moment at least) a good deal less crowded. Throg checked out the auction house but there didn't seem to be much in the way of bargains or opportunities to turn a quick profit yet.

Picking up a few quests Throg found himself revisiting several areas of Eruid Luin collecting stones, gear wheels and what not. The monsters in the wild appear to have grown a bit stronger (up to level 6) but the two caves that Throg revisited since the tutorial (Mirkstone and and Rockbelly Pit) seemed oddly safer than before.

I previously mentioned that I found the combat controls in Lotro somewhat clunky and I have now come to the conclusion that this is mainly due to failings in the targeting and tracking system. My Champion is a melee fighter he needs to be close to his target and pointed the right way in order to do damage. Enemies tend to run at you and sometimes move around in battle. This often leaves my champion pointed the wrong way. The closer you are to the enemy the more likely that they will sidestep out of your field of view. This can be very annoying in the heat of battle to find that you are suddenly swiping at thin air. If this was a first person action game I would say fair enough but this is not. LOTRO does not have the fluid WASD and mouse controls of a first person game so it is very hard to track a moving target in combat. More-over I don't think the enemies are intelligently avoiding hits - I think is is more a bug that they come in too close and end up overshooting. Enabling "move to target" doesn't improve the situation - in fact it makes things worse because move to target seems to be interpreted as "stand on top of target" which has a high probability of leaving you facing the wrong way. I have found the best way to deal with this is to take a step back after running into combat. Lotro seems to determine field of view on an angular basis and by stepping back from the enemy you widen the arc that they can move around while still staying within your field of view.

I have started using Lotro Wiki as my main reference source. It is new of course and still has many gaps but it is shaping up quite nicely. I am ahug efan of Guild-wiwki for Guild wars and lotro-wiki so far seems to be following a similar model.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Another game for my shrink wrapped collection

I dropped into a GAME store on my way home from work and picked up a copy of Paraworld for the princely sum of €2.98. By all accounts Paraworld is an OK but not great RTS. It has Dinosaurs in however so it could probably keep me entertained for an hour or two and for less than €3 one can't complain.
But...When exactly am I going to get around to playing this? I am already juggling Guild Wars, Company of Heroes, Battle for Middle Earth II and Lord of the Rings online.

The sad truth is that Paraworld will join the large collection of games on my shelf that have never even got out of the shrink wrap. I have hundred's of PC games in my collection but if I am honest I have never even installed half of them. I am a sucker for a gaming bargain but it aint much of a bargain if it never gets played.

I wasn't always like this. I used to be diligent - struggling through a game until I finally overcame the last boss. Nowadays however there are just too many games and too little time.

MMORPG Trade Skills

I am not an accomplished crafter in any MMORPG but recent posts on Tobolds blog about crafting in WOW and LOTRO got me thinking. There seems to be a fundamental problem with many crafting professions in mmorpgs that it is impossible to make a profit from crafting untill you reach the highest levels. Typically the raw materials you need cost more on the open market than the products you can make for them. This seems entirely contrary to normal market behaviour - if an item makes a loss why would anybody produce it? A contributor to Tobolds blog called Gnomersky very insightfully pointed out that the root cause of the problem is that crafting an item gives two rewards - it gives the item you produce but it also gives the skill advance. People who wish to advance their skills in crafting are forced to make many many low level items in order to advance to a higher skill level. They then offload the products of their skilling up onto the market and are happy to take what they can get. These "dumped" items effectively flood the market for lower level goods eliminating any opportunity for profit. It is only when you get to the highest level of skill that you can make a profit. There is no incentive to produce a highest level item to sell at a loss because there is no skill up benefit from doing so.

My proposal to fix this is to seperate crafting products into two kinds:
i) practise products give a skill increase but no saleable produce.
ii)saleable products WILL NOT GIVE ANY SKILL INCREASE but the products will have genuine value.

Skillling up a crafting profession will still cost time and money - one will still have to produce many useless practise items to do so. The most important point which I have bolded is that there will be no secondary reward (skilling up) for producing saleable products. At every skill level there will be a choice of practise recipes and saleable recipes. Even at low levels as long as the saleable items have some intrinsic value market forces should ensure that the market price for the end product is more than the market price for the ingredients. If it is not then there is no incentive to produce that item and supply should fall increasing the price.

As a further refinement I think that the ingredients for practise items should be decoupled from the ingredients for saleable items. This should help to lower the market price of ingredients for saleable products which in turn will lower the selling price and encourage a greater volume of sales. Even if this is not done I would still expect selling prices to be higher than ingredient prices but high ingredient prices resulting in high selling prices will result in lower total sales and less overall participation in the market.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

LOTRO Journal 17 April 2007

Throg my Dwarf Champion hit level 6 last night and is poised to leave the newbie starting zone of Thorin's Gate. He retrieved a letter from the elf Elrohir in the Goblin infested Mirkstone Tunnels and can now "finish" the introduction quest sequence after handing it in. I am putting this off because I want to complete the deed "Friend of Ered Luin" that you get from doing sub quests that are given out by random characters scattered around the zone. I have 6 out of 10 of these quests done - now I need to search for the remainig four. I am worried that these quests may no longer be available after I complete the introductory sequence.

The Goblin infested Tunnels are the only mildly dangerous place I have come across in Thorin's Gate. It is full of fast respawning Goblins of up to level 5. At one time I got jumped by four at once. My champion is a deadly killer but can be overwhelmed by multiple foes. Luckily there were plenty of other players in the cave and we all chipped when a fellow hero appeared to be in trouble.

I am still finding the controls to be a bit clunky in comparison to GW but I did make a few discoveries - instead of left clicking to select and then double clicking to attack a single right click selects and attacks (duh). I have enable run to target mode which speeds things up when attacking. I have also bound "select nearest foe" and "lock run forward" to side buttons of my mouse. All this makes life a lot easier. Using a hot key to select a mob and then cycling through mobs if necessary using the TAB key is a lot better than trying to click the right spot in the heat of battle. One feature that I sorely miss is the ability to adjust the size of the user interface (menus, text and icons) independently of the screen resolution. I have a 1280x1024 pixel LCD monitor and if I use a lower resolution the image seems blurred as it tries to stretch to fill the screen. Unfortunately at 1280 x 1024 the on screen interface is too small for my liking but I cannot find a way to get it bigger. I now have a choice of blurry 1024x768 or squinty 1280x1024. It is quite possible I am overlooking something here - it seems like a glaring omission to me. I imagine people with 1600x1200 LCDs must be really suffering on this one.

In previous games I tended to play hybrid classed - a Hunter in WOW and a Mesmer followed by a Paragon in Guild Wars. Hybrid classes are interesting to play because of the variety of roles they can take but inevitably they suffer from confusion over what exactly they are supposed to do. I picked a champion because they seem to have a very straightforward role: In your face melee damage dealing. Although the champion can wear decent armour he has few taunting abilities and when in fervour mode (for maximum damage) his defensive abilities are gone (cannot evade, parry or block incoming attacks). Attack skills consume power (like energy or mana) but the more devastating ones also require fervour which is built up in single points from completing lesser attacks. In order to maximise damage I set up attack chains using lesser skills to charge up fervour to unleash my more devastating blows. Fervour mode increases my melee offense and power regeneration but also allows me to automatically generate one fervour point every 5 seconds. Fervour normally dissapears after a few seconds of non combat but by leaving fervour mode on I can maintain one point of fervour continuously leaving me primed to get in a devastating fervour attack early in a fight. The disadvantage of ferour mode is as stated above it cripples defensive abilities - but so far no mobs in the starting zone have really troubled me.

Skills are purchased from skill trainers when you achieve the appropriate level. Most of the skills my champion has bought relate to combat but two skills puzzle me. I have learned to play lutes and horns. From what I know of lotro lutes and horns are used for buffing and healing so I am a little bit confused yet as to why my one man murder machine would use these. I guess time will tell.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Lord of the Rings Online

I bought the pre-order bonus for Lord of the rings Online MMORPG. That allows 10 days of play in advance of the official release. It may seem a bit rich to charge for what is effectively a game demo but I did get some free stickers an exclusive in game items and I can keep my character if I convert to a full subscription later. I have only spent a few short hours in the game - I created a Dwarf Champion (a sort of melee damage dealer) and played him up to level 5 last night. The game has been reviewed (generally favourably) by many better writers than myself so I will give some first impressions rather than attempt a full review. First off I enjoyed my few hours - the game seems fun and the controls were very similar to World of Warcraft so it was easy to get going. Quests are easy to find and the beginners area I am wandering around presents few problems. If anything life is a bit too easy - so far I haven't met any challenge that came close to killing me in my first five levels. The hardest mob I tackled was a level 5 elite Aurox which I soloed easily at level 4. I am not completely hooked yet. I didn't get the same buzz that I got from starting World of Warcraft even though the World of Middle Earth has so much resonance. For me the game suffers somewhat in that I came to it from Guild Wars. Guild Wars makes many things easy for the player. For example it has instant map travelling and a handy quest arrow showing where to go next. It was a shock to realise that in LOTRO I would have to search the mountains for "that cave somewhere in the North". I am happy to say however that reading the detailed quest objective usually gives good directions. The much talked about graphics are certainly no better than Guild Wars but have much higher system requirements. I am running at 1280x1024 in High quality mode and everything looks nice but not spectacular. Movement is certainly clunkier than Guild Wars although this may be due to lag. In GW clicking on a mob causes you to run to it and interact with it - here you must click to select the mob, then walk to the mob, then double click to attack. To be fair I must admit its not a fair comparison because Guild Wars is not a full blown MMORPG. I guess I need to absorb myself in the world of LOTRO for a bit to see if it sucks me in - I'll play a bit more tonight.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Nerf, Nerf, Nerf, Nerf.

Anyone who has played an online role playing game for long enough to become attached to a character will understand the gut wrenching feeling of despair and frustration when the developers choose to reduce the power of one of your favourite skills or items (nerf). MMORPG forums are full of angry posts from players threatening to leave the game because of a nerf. I myself have been recently touched by the nerf bat in Guild Wars. I spent some hours developing a Mesmer build to adventure in the difficult region known as "The Underworld". One of my key skills has just been nobbled which means I have to go back to the drawing board. I can vouch for the fact that it is annoying and frustrating and yes for a while I thought about abandoning the game completely. What is particularly frustrating is that the skill being nerfed not because of the way I am using it but because it could be overused in PVP play. I don't do PVP - why am I being punished?

Developers usually explain Nerfs as part of an iterative process of rebalancing character abilities - particularly from a PVP point of view. Joshua Fairfield from Terra Nova has just written a very insightful piece where he points out that it is not about balance at all. The ongoing process of nerfing some abilities and buffing (improving) others is actually about disrupting the equilibrium - knocking players out of certain established patterns of behaviour which are guaranteed to get results. He is spot on. In Guild Wars there is a name for the current popular style of PVP play. It is called "The Meta Game" and the developers constantly adjust skills simply to upset the current meta game. Skills that become extremely popular in pvp play are prime candidates for nerfing forcing players to investigate new combinations. I think that this description of nerfing as a means of disrupting the cosy equilibrium can also be applied to nerfs in the PVE domain - it forces players to abandon established proven patterns of behaviour and look for new approaches.

I can understand that motivation but yet I am not fully content. Understanding the reason does nothing to alleviate the abject feeling of despair when a build you have spent many hours perfecting is rendered useless by the blunt instrument of a nerf.

Part of me wonders why they bother at all. If developers never adjusted skills and abilities what would happen? I guess the worry is that everyone would simply fall into one groove playing the perceived "best combination" and the game would lose vitality and interest. I could live with that. If a game began to bore me I could always move on and play something else. Needless to say that solution isn't as appealing to game developers.

I do know one thing. I wish that ongoing re-adjustments would focus more on "buffs" than on nerfs. For one thing it is less demoralising when your opponent gets stronger than when you get weaker. For another I think that buffing could be more selectively applied. Imagine for example that a certain skill is proving unbeatable when used against assassins. Surely it would be better to assassins a special counter skill rather than reduce the effectiveness of that skill across the board.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Total War Tutorial Trouble

I picked up Medieval Total War 2 on Friday. I got the collectors edition (complete with silly figurine) for €29.99. This is something of a bargain as the ordinary edition was selling for €44.99 in the same shop!!!

In installed it today and started on the tutorial. I guess I don't entirely need the tutorial because I have already played a lot of Rome Total war but I like to be sure I amn't missing anything. I remember struggling with the tutorial in Shogun Total War and in Rome Total War. Surely they will have got it right this time I thought. Sadly, No. The tutorial in MTW 2 sucks.

It starts out with good intentions - you get a restricted version of the game engine to play a limited campaign. Helpful guides are at hand to talk you through the action. Unfortunately if you stray one step from the scripted sequence then the tutorial gets completely out of sync. At one point I was supposed to lay siege to Nottingham. Inadvertently I clicked the wrong spot and couldn't get back to Nottingham that turn. That was the end of my tutorial. I had to waste a turn getting back to Notting ham but then I was out of sequence. I was told to click on Caen for example but I couldn't because it was not the correct turn. Arghhhhh. Fool that I am I actually played through the tutorial three times till I got the perfect sequence of clicks to allow me to finish the bloody tutorial. Most frustrating thing of all is that you cannot save the tutorial mid way to retrace your steps and you even have to get a certain way through the tutorial to access the main campaign.

I remember exactly the same frustration with Rome Total war. Why do they do this? Ah well My memory of Rome TW was that things got much much better once the tutorial was over. Hopefully the same applies to Medieval.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Linux in a virtual machine

Woo hoo I'm writing this using Firefox on Linux running in a vitual machine on my Windows XP computer. About a week ago a work colleague had to resort to a virtual machine to get a piece of software running that was not compaitble with his new Vista laptop. That sparked my interest so I thought I would play around a bit. Every virtual machine needs an operating system so I thought I'd have a go at getting Linux running in a virtual machine while I was at it. Since I had limited experience of either virtual machines or Linux I could kill two birds with the one stone.

Linux comes in many flavours but the flavour of the month for noobs like myself is called Ubuntu. It's an easy to install complete package using the clean and simple Gnome interface. Better still I happened to have an install CD from Ubuntu version 6.06 that I had downloaded a few months back but never got around to using.

My first choice of virtual machine was Microsoft Vitual PC 2007. This has the great advantages of being completely free and ludicrously easy to use. Microsoft don't claim to support Linux but several people have reported success at getting Ubuntu to work under VPC 2007 so I thought it was wirth a shot. Download - install - run - creaste new virtual PC. There are very few parameters to enter basically just the size of memory and hard disk for the virtual machine. When you start the virtual machine it looks for a boot disk in the CD drive and it happily booted the Ubuntu install CD. First attempt gave a corrupted screen however but googling around pointed to the need to start Ubuntu ins "safe graphics" mode. Bingo I was running Linux. Ubuntu runs from the CD on first boot and it is painfully slow so I installed it to the virtual hard drive. It ran quite successfully but things were a little slow. The mouse in particular was unresponsive and the mousewheel didn't work at all. Initially I got no sound but I did find a fix on Google. This was a bit messy involving editing a system file to tell it about the Soundblaster 16 that Virtual PC emulates. There doesn't seem to be a "root" log in in Ubuntu so in order to change system files you need to use a "sudo" command to run the editor. A bit messy but I figured it out eventually. One reboot later and I had sound. Sadly the sound was very scratchy and not really worth the effort. Perhaps virtual PC would work better with microsoft products but with an unresponsive mouse and poor sound I wasn't too impressed with Linux performance.

As far as I can make out the market leader in virtualisation is a company called VMware. Internet buzz suggested that VMware is faster and more flexible than virtual PC but VMware's flagship products are not free. Wikipedia however revealed an interesting fact. VMware do offer a free "player" for download that can run virtual machines created on their commercial products. Better still it turns out there are a number of free applications that can create virtual machines that run just fine with VMware player. I tried two a web based application called EasyVMX and a downloadable app called VMXbuilder. EasyVMX is easier to use offering three levels of sophistciation. The easiest level is about as easy as virtual pc 2007. VMXbuilder seems to be more flexible and I actually prefer it.

In use VMware player is about as simple as Virtual PC 2007 just open the player select the virtual machine you want and you are off. It seems to run a lot more quickly though. The system is very useable with no mouse lag and a working mousewheel. Ubuntu automatically recognised the default sound system and the sound was much better than the scratchy sound I got from Virtual PC. I was using 512M of virtual memory and 10Gb of virtual disk for both tests. I even managed to connect Ubuntu to my windows network and connected to a shared printer although in order to do this I had to change the ethernet setup from the default NAT (where the virtual machine hides behind the host machines IP address) to bridged (where the virtual machine talks directly to the network. Sadly in messing around I managed to uninstall the sound card and I haven't yet found out how to re-install it. Plug and Play doesn't seem to be a big concept in the Linux world. My biggest gripe with VMplayer is that it doesn't stretch the virtual display in full screen mode. Perhaps this is a setting I haven't figured out yet. I am sure Virtual PC could do this. Even allowing for this I have to say that VMware player seems to be the better option for Linux.

Is all this useful? Probably not. It might be handy to be able to run some old game using an old version of windows but in my eperience the community are fairly quick to come up with emulators and such that will allow you to play whatever you want on the latest flavour of Windows. Unix is fun and I have to say that Ubuntu looks and feels very polished. Installing new hardware is a bit painful but apart from that everything seems very straightforward. I really love the idea of a free operating system. That said I cannot think of a reason to use it. Windows does everything I want and many of the best Linux applications have been ported to Windows (eg Open Office, The Gimp, Tuxpaint). I do think we owe a huge debt to those who provide free software however and the computing world would be a much less friendly place if the whole GNU / Linux phenomenon had not taken place.

EDIT: Well I got the sound working again - it was a simple matter of enabling sound in the vmx file. Getting full screen mode is a knottier problem. It seems to be a feature (bug!) of the current implementation of VMware player. Perhaps this is a deliberate ploy to convince people to buy one of the commercial packages. There is a kind of a work around - the vmx file has a flag that allows you to enter fullscreen mode when you first start the virtual machine. This works but if you go back to windows you cannot return to full screen mode.