Thursday, November 29, 2007

Melee Characters of the world unite. The time has come to end this injustice.

Syncaine's reply to my post about ranged characters has spurred me on to greater resolve. A campaign is needed to restore equity. Too long have hunters, mages, wizards and warlocks enjoyed the benefits of standing back from the action. The time has come to level the playing field!

Please do not think I am pushing this agenda merely out of sour grapes. Please do not think me so small minded. Ignore the fact that Throg once had to suffer a run though Donnvail in fellowship with three hunters and FAILED TO LAND A SINGLE BLOW. Do not assume that the humiliation of running like a deranged lunatic after every mob only to discover it dead under a hail of arrows BEFORE I EVEN REACHED IT has made me embittered.

No and again No! This is not about jealousy (although you could not begrudge me a little of that). This is about balance. This is about fairness. This is about ensuring that all player enjoy the same game experience. Ultimately this is about making the game better for all of us.

Two modest proposals I put forward:

Firstly we must rectify the scandalous discrepancy which allows ranged characters to rain down punishment from a safe distance while melee characters are forced to put themselves into harms way. The solution, it seems to me, is simple enough. Henceforth all ranged character will be able to carry no more than one arrow/ ball of ectoplasm/Lightning bolt/whatever. Once they have fired this at an enemy from their cowardly hiding place let them wade into danger to retrieve the projectile (If, that is, they have the testicles for it. I think not!).

Secondly we must do something to equalise the gaming experience. As Syncaine so eloquently puts it: "the melee character likely only sees a claw or belly on his screen, while the ranged characters get to enjoy the animation of the whole beast." Again the solution is simple. Hence forth ranged characters should be forced to enter a "sniper scope" mode which dramatically shrinks their field of view when in combat.




They too will come to know the ignominy of wearing a tee-shirt which boasts "I slew the Nazghul and all I got to see was his big toe".

Those are the objectives. The campaign begins now. Watch this space for announcements of marching on Ironforge, Bree, Lions Arch and so forth.

EDIT: Thank you Hawk for pointing out that healers also have a difficult time seeing what is going on, squinting at the world as they do through a fog of health bars. I think it would be sensible therefore to restrict the objective of our campaign to the nerfing of Ranged DPS classes only. After all we really don't want to piss off our healers do we?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Melee Characters vs. Ranged Characters.

One of the main reasons I decided to make Throg a Champion is that prior to Lotro I had mainly played ranged characters and want to try something different. There is a lot of truth in the old saying that "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence". I used to envy melee characters the ability to duke it out with enemies toe to toe. My WOW hunter and my guild wars Mesmer were both easy pickings for any mob that got up close and personal. After a few month sof playing Melee only though I have changed my mind. Now I think that ranged characters have a much easier time of it.

Consider the relative ease with which players of either type deal with mobs of either type.

Ranged player versus ranged mob: Player are stronger than mobs - easy win for the player.

Ranged player versus melee mob: If the mob gets within range it can inflict serious damage on the player but as long as the player is sensible enough to pull carefully a ranged player can ensure a melee mob is half dead before it even touches him - another easy win for the player.

Melee player versus melee mob: Easy win for the player

Melee player versus ranged mob. This can be tricky. The player has to get close to do damage and is likely to take a few hits before he does so. Worse still the player cannot choose the ground on which to fight - he must run to the mob. This risks pulling adds along the way - this is a difficult win or possibly even a loss for the player. Th Imlad Balchorth region of Angmar in Lotro proves this point. Among its many inhabitants are a goodly number of undead archers who like to stand on platforms peppering players who happen to pass. Any attempt to charge one of these guys inevitably pulls a whole bunch of dangerous mobs down on the players head.

It is not just in solo play that ranged characters have an easier time of it. When fighting in fellowships Throg has to wade into the thick of battle. Often in the confusion of names and characters it is very difficult to see what is going on. How I envy the ranged hunters who stand at the outskirts picking their targets.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Duellist (not!)

Invitations to spar / duel always send me into a panic. I am terrible at pvp and it is almost inevitable that I will lose but there is always the suspicion of cowardice (probably justified) if one declines a challenge. I generally ignore uninvited challenges from passing strangers (thankfully a rarer event in Lotro than I remember from WOW) but it is harder to decline a challenge from a kinsmate. Last night Throg received two such challenges one from a burglar kinsmate of much lower level and one from a slightly higher minstrel. Needless to say Throg beat the first and lost the second but my incompetent panic reaction was almost identical in both cases. First I generally struggle to target my opponent correctly, then I generally fail to position myself correctly (a fatal flaw for a melee character) finally I invariably fumble my skills struggling to employ even the few basic techniques that I know about. I don't know why I am so clueless in a pvp situation. In fact clueless is the wrong word. I know what I am supposed to do I just fluff it under the spotlight of a pvp duel.

The spar against the burglar was a non-event due to the level difference - I tried to even thing sup by only using a limited range of skills but as indication of my incompetence I inadvertently launched some unknown skill which one-shotted him half way through the fight. Probably not a good idea given that the burglar was actually my kinship leader in disguise.

The minstrel fight could have been interesting if I had my head screwed on. DPS versus healer is always going to be an uphill struggle for the DPS but I think I could have put up a better showing by using horns to stun and clobber to interrupt at critical moments. As it was he stunned me and took about half my health with a blast of light damage (piercing cry I think) before I landed a blow and went on to whittle me down while he easily healed his way through my attacks.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Level Cap Blues

Long time no blog post. I don't know if my writers block is related or not but it coincides with a period of some apprehension in my gaming life. Throg has made it to level 49 and is fast approaching the level cap of 50. I am uneasily aware that the nature of the game changes. Part of me is excited at the possibility of raiding but I have to be realistic - I simply cannot go raiding every night. I need fun things to do that can be completed in short spurts for most of my game playing. It's not that I am running out of things to do. There are lots of things to do but many of them take huge amounts of time in comparison to pre-end game advancement. For example most nights I log on someone in the kinship is organising a Carn Dum run. While I don't know all the details of Carm Dum I do know that it is an instance that must be done many times for most people to get their class quest items and that it takes over three hours for each run through. Most nights I cannot commit to a solid 3 hour stretch. If I want to commit that amount of time I need to organise it well in advance.

In fairness to Lotro you are not forced to do this instance. You can buy almost everything on the AH for hefty sums of gold. Even a solo player could farm gold and equip himself with Legendary gear given enough time. Still I miss the simple half hour fellowship quests that were so prolific at lower levels.

We had a kinship event last Saturday including a fun attempt at the Imlad Balchorth Raid. Its a very nasty place with five or six groups of elite spirits and elite master spirits that all need to be killed within a tight timescale (20 minutes or so) in order to spawn the raid boss. Our ad hoc group managed to kill the groups right enough but we were too slow. We ran out of time on the last group and were swamped by a sudden total re-spawn. I still enjoyed the event though and learned some things about Lotro Raids.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Should I sign up for raiding?

There is a new poll on the forums of Throg's kinship.It asks whether or not the kinship should organise a weekly "serious raid". The Kinship has already undertaken some "easy" raiding eg the slaying of Bogbereth but the poll refers to the more serious raid instances of Helegorod and the Rift of Nurz Ghashu. These instances will require serious commitment and organisation. The raid composition will have to be just right and everyone will have to learn their role through multiple wipes. Of course they will offer those involved the opportunity to participate in the game at the highest level and to equip themselves (through repeated raids) with the best gear in the game.

At level 48 Throg is fast approaching the level cap (50). Part of me quite fancies the idea of raiding, honing my character's abilities and personal playing skills.

But ... I don't know whether or not I will be able to commit to a raid schedule. Even if it is only once a week my family will always be more important than any video game. I doubt if I will be too popular as the guy who AFK's in the middle of a difficult encounter in order to tend to a crying child. I am also nervous about the impact raiding will have on our kinship. Will it split the kinship into raiders and casuals? Will it result in a move away from the normal friendly helpfulness. Will raiders become focussed solely on their own "gear" progression. Will we have disputes over loot distribution etc. etc. Is this the spectre of World of Raidcraft all over again?

I guess that a transition to raiding is inevitable. Many of the kin are at or near the level cap and what else are we going to do? We could just grind reputation / traits / gold but that sounds terribly tedious in comparison to tackling the toughest challenges in the game. I think I would like to try it - providing I can square it with my real life commitments. I am happy to report the kin leadership seem very aware of the possible conflicts that this development could cause and are planning ahead to try and manage the change while remaining true to the kinships casual friendly ethos.

Where this goes longer term depends on Turbine and how they develop the game. If they continue to introduce new content regularly - perhaps with an increase in the level cap early next year then I think that raiders and non raiders will not drift too far apart. If Turbine follows the example set by Blizzard where by for over two years the only real way for end game players to progress was through an ever more difficult sequence of raids then I think our friendly casual kinship is scuppered. As Tobold says Game Design Causes Guild Behaviour. Thankfully all the signs are that Turbine will continue to regularly release new content that is accessible to all players, not just raiders. We have only got a small region of Middle Earth so far (Eriador) and I find it unthinkable that Turbine would make the new regions only accessible to raiders when they are released.

The wonderful website Visions of the Ring has a great interactive Speculative Expansion Schedule. It is speculation as they say but it is fun to play with anyway. I will make my own prediction: I predict that the next content patch for Lotro will be a paid expansion, will introduce significant new territory and will increase the level cap. Since they have already filled in all of the quest gaps between level 1 and 50 plus introduced player housing I don't see any other way it could go. Unless of course they decide to introduce another level 50 raid instance but I really don't see that happening.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

a New Look and now with Labels.

The minor scare I had recently when some of my blog seemed to disappear gave me the incentive to do a bit of blog housekeeping. First off, I enabled the label function to make it easier to find posts. I used to have labels but I made a mess of them so I had to go through all my old posts and relabel them. Of course the big news is that I have completely changed the layout. My own design skills are not up to the job of designing a blog layout so I used one of the standard blogger templates. It is called "Scribe" and was created by one Todd Dominey. I like it, I find it easier to read and I hope you do too. Thank you Todd.

PS. Blame A.A. Milne again for my inappropriate use of capitals. Seriously though, if you have young kids and haven't read Milne's original Winnie the Pooh stories to them yet, do. You will enjoy it as much as the kids I'll bet.

Grumpy Old Mmorpgers

I am an MMORPG blow in. I came in with the millions who were seduced by World of Warcraft. Nevertheless I enjoy reading the thoughts and war stories of those who have lived in online virtual world far longer than my self. One theme that regularly crops up is the notion that mass popularity has led to the dumbing down of MMORPGS and that this is a bad thing. Recently Keen from Keen and Graev wrote eloquently about this in "Dumbing it Down, The Furture of MMOs" and these sentiments were echoed by Tipa from West Karana.

In this rapidly changing world it would be easy enough to dismiss these comments as the rambling of old timers, addicted to their rose tinted glasses, who cannot accept the fact that the world has changed. Brad McQuaid's attempt to bring back old school MMOdom in Vanguard was something of a disaster. Ten million World of Warcraft players can't be wrong.

However - the old timers do make some solid arguments. Keen points out that without challenge there is no sense of achievement. Tipa looks back to the days when the very difficulty of games forced players into grouping and formed the basis of a tightly knit communities - survival on your own was just not an option.

For me the most eloquent statement of the romance of old-school MMO gaming was made by poster 7-Vodka in a comment he made to some random Slashdot article about a recent World of Warcraft patch. I quote:
Bring back the wild west. Bring back the buggy, unforseen, wild, insulting, violent mess that was Ultima Online back in the early years. There were no cookie cutter classes. There was gambling, extortion, confidence tricksters, scammers, spammers, raiders, looters, exploiters, thieves, honorable and dishonorable fighters and gangs. There was somewhat of a safety zone in towns. There were no factions, everyone and everything was fair game. There was no one way to play the game, I'm sure people have so many interesting stories about how they or friends played. I had a friend who liked to spend his time stealing useless items. He was a weird looking fellow and a clepto. He also enjoyed running around town naked. He would yell at the NPCs and get angry at the guards when they caught him and killed him. That was his take of the game.


That stirs my blood. I can understand the romance of that. I am not sure that I have the time or the patience to play that game (in fact it sounds a lot like EVE online) but it could be fun to read about it.

PS: In case anybody is tempted to sue me I should point out that I am sure both Tipa and Keen are both younger and sprightlier than I am. The title of this post and the general thrust of the second paragraph are supposed to be ironic.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Apologies for the disruption in service...

The Gremlins have eaten large chunks of my blog. The side bar has completely disappeared and posts below "My Favourite Firefox Extension" seem to be corrupted.

I have no idea what is going on. I don't think it is something I did. My current Well Thought Out Plan is to do nothing and hope it just goes away.

Apologies those on my vanished blogroll - it isn't personal I just don't know how to make it reappear.

EDIT: It is fixed now. Just goes to show how sensible my Well Thought Out Plan was in the first place.

PS: I am currently reading AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh to my kids at bedtime and erudite readers (aren't you all?) may spot the influence.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Lotro An Encounter with Gollum

While Throg was investigating rumours of a mysterious creature was was killing animals and stealing fish in the Tal Bruinen region he came across this little fellow:

Throg gave chase but the creature got away by scampering up a rock face and into a deep cave.

To encounter this fellow you need to do the quest chain which starts with "The White Hart". There is a bit of tedious travel invollved but it is very worth it to get to the solo instance at the end which is very cool.

Lotro: Thoughts on the Chapter 11 patch and Quest Chains

I've been playing quite a bit of Lotro recently although I haven't been blogging about it. In addition to player housing the recent free update (Chapter 11) added a fair amount of new content as well. A new area called the High Pass has opened up East of the Misty Mountains which seems to be aimed at level 45 and up while the new Tal Bruinen region south in the South Eastern Troll Shaw's has plenty of quests for players in the low 40's.

One very nice thing about the latest content update is that there are lots of references to Tolkien Lore. The High Pass region contains the Goblin Town from the Hobbit and in Tal Bruinen there is a lovely quest chain where you get to meet a nasty little creature who features very prominently in Tolkien's books.

Throg has only spent a small amount of time in The High Pass but he has done almost every quest in the new Tal Bruinen region of the Trollshaws. Its a pretty region with some fun quests which are incredibly solo friendly. At level 46 Throg is a little over the ideal level for the zone but he still managed to get a superb armour set for himself (Forest-Walker's Apparel) from easy solo quests. He also did a lovely solo instance in which you get to meet the aforementioned nasty creature.

With this update I think Turbine has finally plugged all of the quest "black holes". Evendim patched the mid 30's hole and now Chapter 11 has patched the mid 40's hole. There is now a surfeit of quests at every level for solo players and groups. With all the obvious gaps now plugged I wouldn't be surprised if the next major update will cost money.

The funny thing is that Throg managed to get all the way through his 30's without going to Evendim and without hitting the famous black hole. A combination of solo and group quests in The North Downs and The Trollshaws sufficed. The nice thing about these region's (and indeed all the pre 40's regions of Lotro) is that quests come in well organised chains with a number of solo quests leading up to a group quest. You need to do the group quest at the end to get the best rewards but the system is very casual player friendly because you can progress on the solo pre-quests while waiting for groups to form. Also since most players get all the solo quests done it is usually easy to find others for any given group quest. Sadly this lovely organisation of quest chains begins to break down when you hit the Misty Mountains around level 40 and falls apart completely when you go to West Angmar shortly thereafter.

In West Angmar solo quests and group quests are mixed up in illogical chains. In many cases a group quest comes early in the chain blocking progress to soloable quests. Even more frustrating is that fact that many quest chains cannot be started until some other unrelated quest (for example The Drakes Egg) is completed. The net result is that groups are essential to progress but are also very hard to organise because it is difficult to find players who are at the same point on the complicated chain of quests as yourself.

I don't know why Turbine chose to abandon a system which works well elsewhere when they got to West Angmar. The new regions plug the quest gap but Tal Bruinen is now so solo friendly that I wouldn't be surprised if people abandon West Angmar entirely. Why will people continue to toil through long complicated quest chains when they can get better rewards from solo play in Tal Bruinen? It will probably get even harder to find groups in West Angmar which is a terrible pity.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Team Fortress 2

I have been playing shooters since Doom but I never indulged in online multiplayer fragging, until now. No Quake, no Unreal Tournament not even any Counterstrike for me. Apart from the fact that I am not particularly competitive I guess I have always been a bit intimidated by these games. I imagined that my middle aged noob ass would be an easy target for any frag happy teen.

Well I bought Valve's Orange Box two weeks ago. Portal was played and finished the day I got it. Half Life Episode 2 was completed last weekend. That left Team Fortress 2 to taunt me. Although TF2 is unashamedly multi-player the reviews I have read indicate that is a somewhat noob friendly game. So I gave it a go.

First impressions: For a game that is supposed to be new player friendly I was surprised at the lack of help to get started. There is no manual, no tutorial and not even a single player mode with bots to let new players hone their skills. I have been playing and reading about shooters for years so I managed to navigate the menus easily enough but even so some advice on choosing a server would have been helpful. I guess I expected more "get you started" help from a big name title.

With nothing else to go on I chose a server with low ping that had a free player slot. Once in the game proper I was much more impressed. A cartoon like video introduced the game being played and its objectives. Team and character selection couldn't be more straightforward. The game itself look beautiful and is great fun to play.

Despite the lack of help to get you into a game once in game you are offered regular hints and suggestions. My noob rocket launching soldier for example was advised to aim for ground under peoples feet in order to ensure a hit. I heeded that advice and it works but their next hint was to "try firing a rocket just in front of you and jumping on top of he blast for a really high jump". Rocket jumping may be an established technique for Quake die-hards but this noob values his ass too much to try and blow myself up with my own rockets.

Over the course of about 10 rounds and several hours of play I got a chance to try out all the classes. The aforementioned soldier was probably my favourite class. It is a very straight forward role. You are reasonably tough and you fire powerful rockets so you can play a useful role in offense or defense. The easiest role to play appears to be a medic. Just find a tough guy (preferably a chaingun carrying heavy) and lock onto them with your healing beam to share in the glory of any damage they inflict. I had less success with the other classes. I did manage to score a couple of back stabs as an assassin but all too often the enemy saw through my artful disguise and torched me. The engineer class is one I would love to get into (fun with turrets) but I found it hard to get the hang of and usually got killed before I managed to build anything useful.

I was most definitely incompetent. I spent my first encounter as a medic shooting deadly hypodermic syringes at my own team members thinking that this was actually a healing gun! Eventually I consulted gamefaqs to figure out what was what. Despite my general incompetence I had great fun though. I think the cartoon style of the game makes it seem less serious and less intimidating for new players like me.

If there is a logic to server allocation I don't understand it. I just signed up to a random server and chose a team. As each team was a random group of players standards varied widely and there was very little teamwork. Although the game has integrated voice chat there was very little evidence of any chat in the games I played. The game does seem to have some auto balancing feature however and every so often players were automatically shifted between teams "for game balance".

The very chaotic nature of these random fights gets tedious after a while and after a few hours I longed for something a bit more organised - with a team that actually pursued objectives in a co-ordinated fashion. I am sure there are severs with organised teams playing each other but in my noobness I have no idea how to find them . I am also sure that no team in their right mind would want a player as hopeless as me in their ranks.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Portal Reconsidered

A few days ago I wrote about Portal and pointed out that I felt it was OK rather than great. Yet every other gamer seems ecstatic about it. Tipa from West Karana's reaction is fairly typical: "...the best single player gaming experience of the year".

This got me thinking. How can I be so at odds with my fellow gamers? I have to admit the game is clever, novel and humorous. I enjoyed it enough to finish the whole game in a single day sitting. The ending is very good and worth finishing the game for. In fact I can't really find a reason to criticise the game and yet something about it bugged me. Something that pulled strings at the back of my head without ever registering fully with my conscious mind (and I am not talking about the headache I got from playing for too long).

Do you know what I think got to me: the jumping. To be more precise the precision jumping that was required by so many of the levels.

Back in the mid 1990's no self respecting first person shooter was complete without a smattering of precision jumping puzzles. Regions where you holstered your BFG armaments and leapt from perilous edge to perilous edge in order to progress. Misjudge your takeoff by one pixel and you would surely plummet to the depths leaving you to restart that particular section all over again. Doom had such puzzles, Half Life had lots of them.

I hated these parts. They seemed completely out of kilter with the normal bullets flying mayhem of the rest of the game. I guess some other gamers must have agreed with me because in recent times shooters have pretty much dispensed with jumping puzzles.

Nevertheless the message has been imprinted and whenever I come across a precision jumping puzzle in a game I experience an involuntary wince. "Oh no here comes the silly jumping part we have to struggle through!"

While thinking about this post I looked up Portal in Wikipedia and
read the history of Portal and how it came from a concept developed in an indie game called Narbacular Drop. One thing in particular caught my eye. In Narbacular drop you could fire the portal gun through a portal to create a new portal.


In Portal this feature has been dropped. On several occasions while playing the game I wished that this was possible. In many parts of the game a difficult to reach location could only be attained in one way - through perfect placement of portals and through precision jumping to reach the correct spot. I think that the ability to open portals through portals would have added a new dimension - allowing hard to reach spots to be got to through carefully constructed chains of portal placement.

I guess Valve chose to leave this feature out in order to increase the difficulty level but in doing so I think that they have increased the sports aspect of the game (precision jumping) at the expense of the puzzle aspect (clever use of portals).

Oh and in case you missed it here is a link to the free Portal inspired flash game. It is actually very good.