Friday, December 28, 2007

Do MMOs make you stupid?

We all know that MMOs can be addictive but does playign an MMO actually dull the brain? I followed a link from Tipa's end of year review to a post in her West Karana blog that I missed while I was away during the summer. The post is a personal reflection on various topics following Tipa's tragic loss of her father (many condolences Tipa) but one phrase caught my attention:
MMOs (I have said this) make me stupid. They also take valuable time.
Is this true? Is WOW the soma of our time? Are our middle aged brains being numbed into insensiblilty with a diet of mindless clicking through virtual fantasies?

I have no doubt that my own brain is not as sharp as it was when I was 20. Surely this is a natural part of life. I like to think that this is more than made up for by experience (real world kind) that I have accumulated since then so that on the whole I perform more effectively. I would not be happy to think that I am accelerating the decline into senility by playing games.

In fact I know of one case of a lady we know who has started playing games in an effort to re-awaken her brain - she invested in a Nintendo DS and Brain Training for that very purpose.
Anybody got any thoughts on this?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Jingle Bells

Its very late on Christmas eve (or very early on Christmas morning) and I am pretty sure I just heard bells jingling outside. I am off to bed to avoid bumping into Santa Claus so I wish everyone a very happy Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Tobold Versus Raph Koster on rmt

Tobold is having a bit of an online barney with Raph Koster about whether or not real money transactions (rmt) should be encouraged. The venerable Tobie proposes two hypothetical games and asks readers to choose between them. In one game the economy is constrained in order to minimise rmt (lots of bind on pick up items, blind auction house, ban on grossly asymmetric trades) and one in which rmt is "legalised" and encouraged (legal rmt exchange, bind on equip epics. To be honest I choose neither. In my humble opinion both models suck and here is why:

I want a game with a vibrant and unconstrained in game economy. For me the economy and the emergent behaviour that develops is a vital part of enjoying an mmo. Let people sell epics, let people sell levelling services. Shucks I want a game where you can hire other adventurers to go out and do missions for you like the "runners" in Guild Wars. I want all of this just as long as it is for "in game currency".

If you put contraints on the economy you will kill all kinds of interesting behaviour. Why shouldn't people be allowed to sell epics for a high price. Why shouldn't some people be allowed to become "professional" dunegeon runners collecting loot to sell to others? As long as it is all done for in game currency I think this is great. I am against a blind AH because it deprives buyers and sellers of information. Any economist will tell you that lack of information is one of the key causes of market failure.

On the other hand I want to discourage rmt as much as possible, not legalise it. I don't want games to become a real life money pit. Legalising it will only encourage players to buy gold and will increase the amount of rmt. Eventually it will become almost essential for players to spend real cash to keep up with the game.

Don't legalise rmt - make it even harder than it is at present. Start banning the customers of gold sellers. Those tools Tobold talks about for preventing assymetric exchanges could be used to spot likely transactions with gold sellers. To a gold seller a ban is a professional hazard. To a player a ban is a game ending nightmare. Ban the gold buyers I say. A few high profile bannings might work wonders to create a climate of fear about buying gold.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Lotro: The Refugees from Azeroth have all been deported

Some time back I made a tongue in cheek blog post about the many former World of Warcraft players who had come to Middle Earth to play Lotro. Reading that post now I realise that despite my feeble attempt at humour I had hit on some slightly deeper truth. Many of these former WOW players felts as if they didn't belong in LOTRO. It was almost as if they were playing it as if it was WOW expansion and didn't get the point of the game.

Here we are some months later and almost all of them appear to have left LOTRO and moved back to World of Warcraft. I noticed this phenomenon among my fellow bloggers but I have struggled to try and decide what it means. Is Lotro a failure? Is World of Warcraft just better? Am I silly to remain on in LOTRO?

I haven't really been able to get my head around this so I am very grateful then to Khan (Battered Shield) for his excellent blog post where he talks about this phenomenon and very astutely looks at the people who have chosen to stay. If you are still playing Lotro it is worth reading.

Lotro may not have been the multi-million player success its developers may have wished for but it does seem to have settled down to a core population of committed players. No new servers seem to have launched since before the Summer - so I guess the game population is not growing but I know my server still feels populated and groups are easy to find.

By the way - this post actually owes much to Tipa from West Karana who pointed out that rather than just leave long comments on fellow bloggers posts we should leave short comments and write out thoughts in our own blog linking back to the original post. I like that idea. If nothing else it will give me more content for my own blog :)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Gaming

Its Christmas. Everyone in my household is on holidays and its a good time to get in a spot of gaming. Having reached the level cap in LOTRO I don't feel quite the same need to play it to the exclusion of all other games. I finally got around to finishing the last level of Company of Heroes and I should be able to fit in at least one single player game over the festive period.

Two obvious choices are "Crysis" and "Call of Duty 4". I played through the demos and both look good. As might be expected Far Cry is a bit more subtle with options for stealth play and sneaking through the jungle while Call of Duty is a no holds barred all shooting all exploding extravaganza. Unfortunately though Crysis brings my poor computer to its knees so I think I had better follow DM Osbons recommendation and try CoD4 at least until I can afford a better graphics card. I may even try the multiplayer - DM Osbon

Before I invest in a new game I really should cast my eye over the collection of games on my shelf that are still in their shrink wrap. Notable goodies include: Supreme Commander ,Titan Quest, Guild Wars Factions, Guild Wars Eye of the North, Neverwinter Nights 2, Gothic 3.

Looking even further back I have quite a number of well regarded games that I always intended to play but never got around to: Beyond Good and Evil, Perimeter, Farenheit, Fable, X3 Reunion, XIII, Hidden and Dangerous 2, Evil Genius, Thief Deadly Shadows, Deus Ex Invisible War and quite a few other unplayed games stare at me forlornly from the shelf beside my computer.

Many of these games are relics from a period of compulsive game buying. At its height I was buying 50 games a year from bargain shelves and even second hand. I have pretty much got over that phase and I no longer buy games I don't have time to play but some of those games deserve to be played.

Perhaps I will proceed as follows: I will get Call of Duty 4 - it should be fun and the single player campaign isn't supposed to be that long. I will also endeavour to give a good airing to at least one game from my collection of unplayed games, but which older game to choose? Decisions, decisions.

Yahtzee You are a Superstar

Hollywood has long understood the value of having a superstar headlining a film but now it appears that gaming webzines may also benefit from the concept. This post from "The Escapist"'s forums indicates in an anecdotal way that their readership has grown dramatically since the arrival of Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw's anarchic game review videos.

Fair dues I say. "The Escapist" is a great read and Yahtzee is one of the best things on the web at the moment.

Given the transitory nature of celebrity these days, particularly internet celebrity, it is inevitable that Yahtzee will decline in popularity when the next big thing come around. With any luck though a lot of the new readers will stick around - the magazine is good enough.

Now I wonder which celebrity I can get to do a regular slot on my blog?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Guild Wars: Legendary Defender of Ascalon

I haven't played Guild Wars in a while but I often remember the game fondly. One of the things that always surprised me was how much time people spend in the PVE game gaining novelty titles and equipment that offer no game advantage. In other MMOs I have played such things are regarded as fluff and often looked down upon by serious players. Even people who do go for them (collecting rewards at festivals for example) quickly get bored and discard them once they are over but in Guild Wars the pursuit of novelty armour sets and novelty titles has become almost an obsession for many. Indeed in many ways these rewards are the "End Game" of PVE Guild Wars. Getting them is no trivial task either. Fancy armour sets (with no better stats than common armour) require many many runs of high level dungeons to acquire rare drops. The most coveted titles require many many hours of play to achieve. For example the explorer titles require a player to painstakingly walk their character over every square foot of the game world.

Even though people spend hundred of hours gaining these titles the game (and the players) treat the whole thing with just the right amount of light heartedness in my opinion. Just look at the humorous names you get for maxing out 5, 10 or even more titles. Thousands of hours of dedicated game play are required to net the moniker: "Kind of a big deal" or "I'm very important".

Perhaps my favourite title (no I haven't earned it myself) though is "Legendary Defender of Ascalon". This title is given for something which should actually be impossible to do but players found a way around. It is given for levelling all the way to the level cap of 20 before leaving the factions starting area of "Pre-Searing". It should be impossible because the highest level mob in pre-searing is level 10 and mobs more than five levels below you don't give XP. I don't know what genius discovered this but the apparently impossible feat can be achieved, with a lot of patience through a process known as death levelling. Mobs in GW gain XP when they kill something and will level up themselves. Roughly speaking the process of death levelling involves aggroing a mob and bringing it close to a resurrection spot. Then let the mob kill you to gain some XP. If done correctly the mob will still be around when you resurrect and the mob can have another go. By repeating this process you painstakingly raise the level of the mob until it is high enough for you to kill and get XP yourself. Then repeat, again and again and again. According to this post the title will take at least 710 hours to acquire. Of course it serves no purpose in game. But I still think it is kind of cool.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Lotro: Why are all the vendors useless?

Every decent sized settlement has a selection of vendors: Light, medium and heavy armour smiths, bowyers, weaponsmiths, healers and so on. Sadly most of them never ever make a single sale. Why? Because vendors in LOTRO only ever sell the lowest quality (grey) items. Once a player has passed the first few levels of the game they can easily get much better stuff from quest rewards, loot drops and crafter items. All vendors will buy things (bizarre considering they never seem to sell anything) and all vendors can repair damaged equipment (even more bizarre - what does a healer know about repairing damaged armour). The only vendors who make regular sales are the "suppliers" and "provisioners" who sell consumables for crafting or traveling rations .

It is sad to think that someone went to all the trouble of designing these vendors and populating their their inventories only for them to never be used. I would love to see some changes which made them a more significant part of the game. Here are some thoughts:

1. Give vendors decent equipment to sell. A few strategies could be employed in order to prevent this from unbalancing the game: Make the prices high. Put Vendors who sell good stuff in dangerous hard to reach locations. Perhaps use a barter system where vendors require rare materials in order to make good stuff. Maybe just carefully choose the quality of vendor stuff at each level to be better than quest loot from lower levels but worse than quest loot for this level. That way vendor items could be used a temporary stopgaps until you obtained better quest rewards.

2. Enforce more rigid restrictions on repairing. Perhaps equipment could only be repaired to 100% by a vendor who specialises in that area. Other vendors might only be able to offer a 75% repair. You could expand on this In order to 100% repair teal and purple items perhaps you need to go to an expert in one of the major settlements. And please - healers and provisioners shouldn't be able to repair anything. In small outposts with only one vendor call them a "handyman" or something similar and let them do partial repairs.

3. Slightly more radical but intriguing - what if vendors worked like real life brokers buying and selling stuff from players. Guild Wars implements such a system very well with its commodity traders. It might canabalise business from the AH but it might be an interesting addition to the game economy.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Carn Dum: Throg Joins the Assault on the Witch King's Fortress

On Saturday Throg spent three and a half hours in the 6 man instance of Carn Dum with a kinship group. It was a pretty successful run - Several of us knocked off a few quests and one of our hunters got the rare "slime" he needs for his class quests. We had an experienced tank and healer who directed events (plus had all the keys needed to access the fortress) so it went smoothly. Highlight of the run for me was a set piece fight against the giant octopus who drops the aforementioned slime.


Carn Dum is not a raid instance but it is a major fellowship instance with many bosses. It is woven into the epic storyline and it is the only place to get some vital class drops (but not funnily enough for champions). As keys must be collected to open access to the stages and as each boss only drops one critical item kinships can be expected to visit CD many time in order to allow their members get all the stuff they need to progress.

I am sure it gets boring after the 10th time but I really enjoy this type of focussed group play. However - setting aside three to four hours to play an instance uninterrupted is quite difficult for me and makes me wonder how much further I can progress in the game. If I expect fellow kin members to spend three or four hours getting my high level items then I need to return the favour - that means running long instances like CD many times and at the moment that creates a difficulty for me.

I mentioned before that I would like to have a go at raiding but as that probably needs even large uninterrupted blocks of time so I will need to be realistic about what I can and cannot do.

Lotro is unusual in that you don't actually have to go raiding to get epic gear. You can buy very high level stuff on the AH given enough gold. However I have spent a good deal of time solo grinding over the last week or so (traits, pages and cash) and I nearly went bananas. I offered my services to the first group I found just to get back into doing group quests.

This is a slightly rambling post but I guess once of the points I am trying to make is that "long" instances can be insurmountable barriers to casual players like me. I love grouping and I love challenging instances but setting aside uninterrupted blocks of time is a challenge.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

All I want for Christmas is....

Christmas will soon be upon us and Santa Claus is expected to visit the Mindbending household with a well laden sack. In a curious footnote to my attempts to interest my daughters in computer games they have both requested Nintendo DS for Christmas. They are two angels so I am sure Santa will be generous but I have no idea what games he will bring. It is fairly certain that Ultimate Mortal Kombat won't be included but never the less I am sure the girls will give their old dad the odd go on their consoles. After all having only daughters I am deprived of the opportunity to muscle in on a son's train set so I feel sort of entitled.

In another pleasant surprise Mrs mbp, suggested that she might get me a wide screen monitor for Christmas. Such generosity will accrue her many brownie points I can assure you.

Of course the choice of such an important item in a gamer's life cannot be left to chance so I have been perusing websites for recommendations. It seems that the sweet spot in terms of value is presently at 22". This screen size has the added bonus that the natural resolution is around 1600 x 1000. I won't need to upgrade to quad 9900GTX graphics to drive this plus the desktop should be easily readable.

Three models suggest themselves: Samsung SM226BW (2ms), the LG L226WTQ (2ms) or the ACER AL2216WSD (5ms). Each of these models is targeted at the value conscious gamer and each gets very good reviews.

My initial leaning was towards the LG as I am very happy with an LG Flatron screen I have been using for the last three years. Unfortunately a bit of googling revealed that a certain percentage of customers have experienced severe ghosting when playing games on the LG monitor. The problem may or may not be solvable by adjusting the monitor settings but the whole business makes me reluctant to take a gamble on this LG screen.

The Samsung screen has similar specification to the LG and was my natural next choice but again Google threw a spanner in the works. Apparently this Samsung display uses panels from multiple manufacturers and while the original Samsung version is superb the substitute panels may not be as good. Curiously all reviewers seem to have got the original Samsung panel.

That leaves the Acer. The Acer is a bit cheaper than the other two panels but also a bit lower in specification. I doubt my 43 year old eyes could distinguish the difference between 2ms and 5ms but the image is not supposed to be as good and the mounting is somewhat flimsy. The good news is that Google did not reveal any skeletons in Acer's cupboard.

So here is my dilemma: Do I go for the lower spec but safer Acer panel or take a gamble on the Panasonic or LG models?

Edit: According to X-bit labs analysis the alternative panel for the Samsung display is still pretty good. So I think I will plump for the Samsung!

Oh and PS Santa - Can I have a copy of Call of Duty 4 too please? (Aside: Whatever happened to COD3? I don't recall that ever being released for the PC).

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Noob Comic

I have meant to add Gianna Masetti's web comic "The Noob" to my links list for some time but never got around to it. Its pretty well known - I first came across it through a link from Blizzards website some time back. I'm a fan - I like the fact that it focuses on storyline rather than just a new gag every week. I find the weekly updates frustrating though - there just isn't enough in each weeks new script to satisfy. In fact I find it works better if you save it up for a few weeks and then read a whole bunch.

On the off chance that you haven't seen this before then I strongly advise going back to the start and reading it all in a couple of sittings.