Monday, March 30, 2009

Guild Wars Factions: Out of the mouths of babes ....

... comes an unexpurgated stream of excrementally puerile drivel, at least it would so appear in games.

My Guild Wars appetite has not been sated by completion of the Nightfall campaign but I don't really feel like going over the same missions again in hard mode or in pursuit of skills or titles. Therefore I have instead started a brand new assassin character in Factions.

After a brief tutorial I was set loose in the starter town of Shing Jea Monastery. Having spent the last few weeks in the sparsely populated end game regions of the Nighfall campaign it was at first heartening to see a lively stream of banter in the local chat channel. Heartening at least until I made the mistake of trying to read some of that lively banter and discovered just how nauseatingly puerile that banter was.

The general timbre of the conversation may be judged from the topics covered in a the few brief minutes that I observed. The most commonly applied epithet was to call someone or something "gay" which I deduce was intended as a form of abuse. Attempts to up the ante generally involved reference to another players mother while several accusations were made of other players having Aids and in one case Cancer. The only sign of intelligence in the conversation came from the clever juxtaposition of letters used to get around the profanity filter (fcuk, fkuc, cnut and so on) although in hindsight the misspellings may have been no more than a fortuitous consequence of the participants general lack of literacy. Several sniggering references to girlfriends suggested that the participants were most likely pre-pubescent boys.

I was a boy once but it is so long ago I have forgotten what my motivations were. I am sure I indulged in my fair share of schoolboy posturing and sniggering at naughty jokes. In those pre-internet days such behaviour was reserved for the back of the class room and other corners of the world that were safe from adult gaze. Now thanks to the wonder of the internet children and foolish adults are given a platform to makes fools of themselves in public and irritate others while they are at it. It is an extreme form of John Gabriel's Greater Internet F*ckwad theory http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19/.

There is nothing new in this, it is an accepted peril of mmorpging but Guild Wars general chat seems to plumb depths even lower than those explored in other games. I guess it is due to the lack of a monthly fee combined with a laisser faire moderation policy. I know I shouldn't let stuff like this bother me but despite my best efforts it is irritating. It is possible to turn off general chat but I hate doing that. I already solo most of the way through the game, having general chat open is often the only indication I have that I am playing in a multiplayer world.


Thankfully the problem goes away once you leave the few starter towns. The relative difficulty of Guild Wars PVE play seems to filter less committed players out of from the later regions of the game. Even in the starter zones, the instanced nature of Guild Wars explorable zones guarantees quiet once you step outside a town.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Guild Wars Nighfall: To kill a god ...


I have just finished the main pve campaign of Nightfall for the first time. Viewed simply as a single player RPG I found it very entertaining with a good story line and challenging quests. I did get bored in the middle of the Kourna section of the game and and put it aside for two years but once I restarted and got over that bit the game went from strength to strength. The big bad fellow in the picture about is an evil god you must slay to complete the campaign.

The difficulty certainly ramps up a bit in the last few missions set in the netherworld known as the Realm of Torment but I never found it as challenging as the latter missions of the original Guild Wars Prophecies Campaign. I suspect this had much to do with the availability of heroes in Nightfall plus the fact that the Paragon is a rather more robust character than the Mesmer I took through Prophecies.

Where to next for my gaming? I don't feel the need to repeat any of the Nightfall content in Hard mod but I do still have Factions and Eye of the North to look at. I remain in a decidedly non multiplayer groove. I just can't work up the enthusiasm to go multiplayer gaming at the moment.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Guild Wars: Worm Fight



Guild Wars Nightfall remains my main gaming habit at the moment and I am delighted to report that the game gets better and better. I have just completed the Gates of Desolation mission which lets you ride inside one of these brutes. They are called Junundu and you can not only ride them you can direct them into battle. As might be expected they are ridiculously powerful. Too powerful in fact. Every worm has a skill called Junundu Wail which resurrects all fallen colleagues with full health and energy. It's a kind of I win button. In the screenshot above my worms (greenie black fellows) are being attacked by a wild worm (brown guy). He loses.

There is one elite skill on the worms bar I haven't unlocked yet. I can't imagine what would qualify as elite for a worm given how powerful the normal skills are.

What Will happen after the Copyright Model is Gone?

Despite my occasional rant about the immorality of stealing digital content I do realise that our current understanding of copyright is probably incapable of surviving the new digital reality. I stumbled across a terrific blog article this morning dealing with that very issue. Clay Shirky's piece deals specifically with journalsm and the newspaper industry but just about everything he says applies to media publishing in general.

Its a long piece but some of the key things I got out of it are:

The "positive returns to scale" which gave rise to the growth of large scale publishing have been destroyed by the internet.

Therefore the publishing industry has become irrelevant. Attempts to preserve existing structures with DRM, new payment models and through aggressive legal action are doomed to failure because a revolution has come and the industry they are trying to preserve is "visibly going away".

The society of the future won't need publishers but it will still need some of the services that publishers used to provide (in this case journalism).

Clay Shirky doesn't say what the new journalism will be but predicts a few decades of "overlapping special cases" as people strugggle to "do whatever works". He expresses the hope that "over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need."

As I said all of this is about newspapers and journalism but I think you could easily substitute music publishers and music or game publishers and gaming or book publishers and writing - the arguments still apply.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can you explain Runes of Magic Death Penalty to me please?

I am aware that the the death penalty in Runes of Magic gives you an Experience Point debt but I don't really know the details. The forums are down in preparation for launch so I can't find out more but I am hoping that some helpful passing reader can enlighten me.

What I have been able to scrape together is that the debt applies to both experience and talent points. I have also seen reference to a kind of corpse run which reduces some of your death penalty.

Do the penalties for multiple deaths stack up? How severe is the penalty and how long does it typically take to work off in game? Can you actually lose levels and skills or does the debt simply prevent you form advancing further? How does the corpse run work and what happens if you die in an instance? How do players treat the death penalty? Does it make for very conservative play where people are afraid to risk dying?

Having an experience point death would appear to shift Runes of magic towards the hard core end of the MMO spectrum. I am reminded of Everquest old timer's tales of their dreaded corpse runs.One thing is different however. Browsing the item shop I came across a potion which removes death penalty. It costs about €1 per gulp. If that does what I think it does then it introduces a very interesting dynamic into the game. Dying will cost you real money!

Game Piracy and the Indie Developer

Via Slashdot I came across two interesting articles with sales figures for indie game developers one for PC and one for Iphone.

The PC game was developed by an experienced indie developer. It took a team of people about a year to make and has racked up sales of about $110k after two years which they reckon is just about break even.

The Iphone game was a one man effort which took about six months but it has only achieved sales of about €535 after a month despite good reviews. It looks like this game will never generate a decent return to the programmer for his time.

What really struck me about these articles is that both games were cracked almost immediately at launch. You can sense the developers' bitterness that many people may be playing their games without paying a cent.

I also know that there is no proof that that piracy resulted in a single lost sale of either game. Perhaps the games were crap. Perhaps a few folks who pirated the game even went out and bought a copy after trying it (yeah right).

I know that content piracy and the fight against it is an emotive issue. I know that "Big Content" has lost a lot of the moral high ground on this issue with clumsy attempts to restrict customers rights and abusive use of legal processes. I also know that the sheer unstoppable momentum of the digital information explosion probably means that the traditional pay for content business model is probably going to die out anyway despite cack handed attempts at restricting digital rights.

Nevertheless, accepting all of the ambiguity about what would have happened if, accepting all he uncertainty about what will happen when, those articles have convinced me that here, today in the world we live in now it is morally wrong to download and use content you are not legally entitled to. It is immoral to pirate pc games. It is immoral to pirate Iphone games. It is immoral to pirate books or films or music or cable tv.

Something strange happened in Runes of Magic last night.

Despite my earlier grand plans for a shared Runes of Magic gaming experience I had pretty much decided not to even bother asking my wife to play. A few hours messing with the game left me with a sinking realisation that it is too rough around the edges, too combat focused and not cutesy enough to hold her attention.

Then, last night she came over and asked me to show her the game. This isn't really the strange thing by the way. She did it because she knew I want to play games with her. She did it because she knew I had spent a few hours over the last few days setting up the game on two computers and testing things out. She did it because she loves me. This isn't really the strange thing but it was still very nice though.

She chose to play a Mage, partly because she fancies the idea of controlling elemental magic and partly because it is the only female starting character who covers her knickers. The 60 seconds (seriously) tutorial was enough to teach her the basics of movement and so her modestly clad novice Mage entered the game world proper near the village of Pioneer Camp.

What happened next is a bit hazy. I guess must have glanced away for a minute because before I knew it she had somehow bypassed the beginner quest arc, you know the one that gives you your first weapon and armour and sends you out to kill ten fooozles to earn a level or two. Instead she was chatting to a Herbalist trainer. The idea of collecting wild flowers and herbs appealed and so my beloved duly wandered off unarmed and unarmoured into the wilderness to find some.

I could sense an impending disaster so I quickly booted up the game on another machine and created my own level 1 knight character with a intention of trying to watch her back. It was while I was forcing this new character quickly into the the game that something strange happened.

"How do I lasso one of these fungii" she asked. I turned to see where she had ended up and found that she had stumbled into a surreally cute instanced garden full of pretty graphics and cuddly creatures.

She had discovered Telly-tubby land inside Runes of Magic.

I joined her in this bizarre location for a pleasant half hour of lassoing toadstools. There were a couple of deaths due to accidentally attacking level four mushrooms while trying to tame them but I enjoyed it and I think my wife did too. I didn't feel the need to tell her that this cutesy zone is an anomaly designed to tempt you into forking out real money for your very own mushroom pet while most of the rest of the game is populated with spiders, goblins and other horrible monsters who only want to kill you.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My thoughts on RoM's business model

It was Saylah from Mystic World who put me on to Runes of Magic in the first place and in a recent blog post she has expressed concern that Frogster may be shooting themselves in the foot with a couple of changes to their micro transactions based business model.

The two things she queries are the fact that an increasing amount of rmt shop items are becoming available for purchase in game using in-game gold and also the proposed introduction of a currency exchange where players will be able to safely exchange in game gold for rmt shop currency (diamonds). Saylah is concerned that by allowing players get rmt shop items without paying real cash Frogster may throttle the very revenue stream the game needs to survive.

I am not so sure. I think Frogster are trying to be very clever with the RMT model and in particular I think they are looking at ways to adress one of the biggest dissadvantages of this type of game:

In a game where most of the pouplation play for free then the small number (the hard core) who do use rmt must pay a lot in order to support the horde of free-loaders. Anecdotally one hears tales of $500/month mmo habits. I don't know if this is an exageration but the principle of the few supporting the many does require the few to pay much more than the $15/month we have become used to for subscription games.

I think the currency exchange provides a mechanism for this small hardcore to offload the burden of paying for the whole game onto the much larger number of "middle core" players.

If I am right and this is what they are trying to do then Frogster will try and balance the game so that hardcore players are able to generate gold in excess of their requirements while the medium core will experience a deficit of gold. The hardcore can then buy the diamonds they need for rmt shop items from the "middle core" in exchange for surplus gold. This is exactly what legally sanctioned currency exchange has done for EVE - it allows the most dedicated players to offload the burden of paying for the game onto the middle classes. All in all it is a fairer solution because the larger number of middle of the road players avoids the need for a small number of players to pay excessive individual amounts.

Why also make rmt shop items available for in game gold? Perhaps it an economy balancing measure. It provides an alternative gold sink for high end players and it shoud serve to cap the currency exchange rate for diamonds (rmt shop currency). I would expect that once the market has settled it will generally be cheaper to buy diamonds from another player and then use these in the rmt shop than to buy shop items directly for in-game gold.

I have previously expressed my mistrust of microtransaction based mmos and the impact on game design but Frogster do seem to be taking a pretty innovative approach. All in all it is a delicate balancing act and I hope they pull it off.

Top Ten Money Making MMO's

I missed this when it came out last month but Gigaom have spilled the beans on a study by DFC intelligence of the top ten money making MMOs of 2008:

1. World of Warcraft, DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $500 million-plus

2. Fantasy Westward Journey, DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $150-$500 million

3. Maple Story, DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $150-$500 million

4. Shanda (includes Legends of Mir and World of Legend) DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $150-$500 million

5. Lineage I and Lineage II , DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $150-$500 million

6. Runescape DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $50-$150 million

7. Club Penguin, DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $50-$150 million

8. Lord of the Ring Online DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $50-$150 million

9. Warhammer Online DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $50-$150 million

10. Age of Conan DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $50-$150 million

World of Warcraft was a no brainer but it doesn't have the lead in revenues that I expected. If the $500m figure is to be believed it is clear that the vast majority of WoW's 11m customers are paying far less than the $15 per month we think of as standard.

I had never heard of Fantasy Westward Journey but apparently it is the most popular mmo in China so that explains it massive revenues.

Combining Lineage 1 and 2 into one entry and lumping all Shanda's games together problably distorts the rankings but I am not surprised to see these games nor Maple story and Runescape in the list.

Further down the list we discover that the number 2 Western MMO is ... "Club Penguin". Am I surprised? Of course not - I predicted this some time ago . The now owned by Disney game does have some strong competitors in the "family friendly" mmo space though so it is interesting to see that it is the only kiddy friendly western game to make the list.

Fanbhoys can fight over the last three entries. Lotro is now in its third year and while it never really threatened to dent WoW's crown Turbine do seem to have established a comfortable niche with this game generating a steady stream of revenue. Neither AoC nor WAR have a full years revenue to consider but both games benefitted from a large number of box sales so it is hard to read much into their position on the list. Sticking my neck out and giving my interpretation of the internet buzz I would guess that AoC has dropped like a stone and will not feature significantly in 2009 while WAR though it has lost the majority of its early subscribers may be able to maintain Lotro-esque numbers going forward.

Another interesting observation: Eight of the top ten games use a subscription model even if some of them also offer Micro-transactions. As far as I know only Maple Story and Shanda's games are primarily funded by item purchases.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Runes of Magic update

I have spent about four hours in the game over the weekend advancing my novice mage to the heady heights of level 8. First impressions:

The good stuff: This is a very "big game" for a free to play. It has everything you would expect from a A-list MMO and then some. In my first few hours I have already encountered a short tutorial, levelling, skill training, crafting, fast travelling, mounts, player housing, background lore, looting, upgradeable weapons and equipment, an auction house, bank vaults, a postal system, a day/night cycle, daily quests. I have heard about but not yet tried grouping, instanced dungeons, guilds, multi-classing. You name it this game seems to have it. The good news is that there seems to be little or no restrictions on what you can do for free. Of course the game developers need your cash to live on so there is a range of convenience and vanity items that will cost you real cash. The housing system and the travel system are the most obvious real money sinks I have come across so far.

The not so good stuff: The game's graphics don't really appeal to me. The character and scenery models are not particularly pretty. This is not a question of polygon count, more a matter of artistry or lack of it. Lots and lots of "kill ten rats" quests (or in this case mushrooms). Documentation on the game (which is still in beta) is poor so you end up figuring most stuff out as you go along. Thankfully it uses industry standard controls for the most part so it isn't too hard.

The bad news is that I haven't managed to convince my wife to play at all yet. This is partly because there is bug that causes random error messages on her computer and partly because the graphics just aren't cutesy enough to grab her attention. Mainly though I think this game is, in our case, a victim of its own success. There is too much in it. Too many things to do and too many things to learn. Coupled to the lack of documentaion that makes for a game that would quickly intimidate and scare off a newcomer.

I haven't entirely given up hope but if my wife isn't interested in playing RoM then I doubt I will be playing either. Life is too short and mmos in particular are too big a time sink to spend time playing one that doesn't grab your attention in a special way. Runes, from what I have seen so far, just doesn't do that for me.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Runes of Magic Server names translated


EDIT: Now with pronunciation. I don't understand phonetics so I have done my best to indicate pronunciations using common English spelling.

Here's a pleasant surprise - The names of the servers in Runes of Magic (international version anyway) are all Irish Gaelic words. I come from Celtic stock myself and we have a very rich tradition of magic and heroism in Celtic mythology that is perfect for an mmo setting. It is quite a few years since I learned Gaelic at school but with the help of an online dictionary I will have a go at translating the server names:

Smacht (Smockhd): Discipline or Grip
Macantacht (Mackanockht): Honesty
Siochain (Sheeockhawn): Peace (Yes this is a PVE server)
Tuath (too..ah): Country
Cogadh(kug..ah): War (PVP server of course)
Laoch (Layuckh): Warrior or Hero
Muinin(Moo..inin): Confidence
Aontacht(Aye..on..tockht): Unity

Friday, March 13, 2009

Runes of Magic: I know this well end badly but ....

I am downloading Runes of Magic with a kind of half notion of creating accounts for myself and my wife to see if we can play together. All previous attempts to introduce my beautiful other half to virtual worlds have ended in boredom on her part and frustration on mine.

Runes has been described as a World of Warcraft clone which is a good thing. Of all the mmo's I have played WOW was the one which most nearly caught my wife's eye. I am still highly suspicious of the free to play pay to progress business model but I don't see the point of taking buying two subscriptions for an experiment that is quite likely to end in failure. Plus the ability to buy a fancy outfit with real money is just the sort of thing that would appeal to my fair lady.

Actually getting the game is proving a bit awkward by the way. When I first registered for an account I was vectored to some completely separate web site and asked to log in. Its not clear whether my Runes of Magic login will work for that or not. Anyway ignoring it completely seemed to work and I eventually got the registrtaion email from RoM. After activating the account you are faced with an intimidating questionnaire where you are asked to spill the beans on your former guild mates. Useful marketing information I know but it is a bit blatant to ask me to hand over my friends email addresses. Thankfully the survey seems borked on Firefox, there is no submit button, and ignoring it got me back to the website. Now I am downloading the game using the provided FOG downloader. 3.5 Gb at an average speed of 10kb/second??? I left it running all night and its still only 2/3 of the way there. Somehow I don't think I will be looking forward to patch days.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What have I been up to? Guild Wars mostly.

My poor blog has been neglected this week. Not much to report. My gaming time has mostly been split between Guild Wars and Left 4 Dead.

I am surprised how easily I have slipped back into Guild Wars. I am strictly in single player mode and haven't even applied to rejoin my old guild but playing solo suits my current mood.

Previously I found parts of Nightfall a bit drab. It think that is partly why I quit. But now working my way through Vabbi I am constantly struck by how beautiful everything is. Just tonight I did a quest in a hidden city buried underground and protected by powerful Djinns. Right in the heart of this underground metropolis I came across this treasure trove:



I am even beginning to like my Paragon character. After playing around with his skill bar I have more or less settled on an adrenaline focussed set-up using Focused Anger and For Great Justice to give me constant double rate adrenaline generation. I use the adrenaline for some nasty spear attacks and since I don't need energy for attacking I use what I have to protect my party with "There's nothing to Fear". This build is getting very close to the classic "Imbagon" but I am missing a key skill from factions (Save Yourselves) which gives +100 armour (over 80% damage reduction) to other party members. What I have still works very well.

I have a wide selection of heroes to choose from by now. Tonight I ran with Koss as an axe wielding warrior, Dunkoro as a healing monk and Norgu as an interrupting Mesmer. I have a soft spot for Mesmers although they are reputed to be a bit weak in PVE. They still make great interrupters and can completely shut down a dangerous spellcaster. Throw in the iconic Memser hex Empathy (damage every time the mob attacks) and the disabled caster will kill themselves as they try to attack with their their wand. At first I tried to use the more obvious anti caster hex "Backfire" (damage everytime you use a spell) but it doesn't work well when Norgu is interrupting the spells before backfire causes any damage.

It is amazing how well Guild Wars works as a single player game. You never even have to speak to another human. You can even buy stuff from other players using npc middle men called traders. This system is not as flexible as a full Auction house but it makes it more like a single player game which has its advantages. Sadly traders don't sell everything and some of the exceptions are bizarre. Suffix upgrades for armour (runes) can be bought from a trader for example but Prefix items (insignia) can not. Perhaps this is done deliberately to encourage player intercourse but I just find it a nuisance. If you want one of the non-trader items you must either get it as a rare drop or subject yourself to the unpleasantness of the open outcry trade channel.

Edit: Duh... as Melf_himself kindly pointed out you can buy insignia from the Rune trader. They appear under the "non- alligned runes" tab. I still haven't found a way to buy weapon upgrades from a trader though so my general point is point is still valid. PS. If you know of a trader for weapon upgrades please let me know. I will gladly eat humble pie again.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

I pay my money, How come I don't get to make my choice?

The "I Win" button proposed in my last post was perhaps too extreme - effectively boosting you straight to the end of the game. However I do see a role for other time saving options that would allow players to bypass content if they wish.

Why not allows players to start a game at any level they want? Why not give players alternative "easy routes" to unlocking difficult parts of the game?

Such features would be very liberating for players - allowing each individual to choose their own level of challenge and time commitment. I think it would also enhance the longevity of a game. How? Because it allows new players to jump into a game at the latest liveliest part and not have to wallow in deserted five year old content.

Ok so you have some objections. I will try and deal with the ones that come to mind:

1. You need to grind through levels 1 to 80 in order to learn how to play your character. I'm sorry but I don't agree. I think someone who has played mmos before could probably pick up a pre-made end game character in a brand new game and get up to speed in a few days. In fact I fail to see how grinding through 80 levels of solo play prepares you properly for end game grouping anyway.

2. But even noobs who have never learned to mmo will jump to max level. You need the grind to filter these people out. If the level grind filtered out arrogant losers who assume that they are better than "noobs" I would vote for it. Sadly all it filters out is people who have neither time nor patience to get through it.

3. I spent months levelling and equipping my character. You are devaluing my efforts by introducing easy mode for other players. This is a slightly trickier argument. I know that the real value of the pixellated rewards you get in an mmo stems from the effort involved in getting them. I guess the answer to this is that you must decide yourself what challenges you want to take on and you will know in yourself what you achieve and don't achieve. Why do you need to artificially limit someone else just to affirm yourself? I am prepared however to make a concession on this one - I would allow cosmetic differentiation (perhaps titles or fancier looking gear) for those who do it the hard way. The easy mode stuff should be just as powerful but perhaps not as pretty looking.

4. But this is a pvp game. You are giving that new player an unfair advantage by letting them have instant access to high level skills and equipment. To answer this I think you need to differentiate between games where pvp is a contest with no real impact on the game world (like WOW ) or games in which pvp is integral to the control of territory and resources (like EVE). In a game like WOW I do not see any point in pvp contests between players of unequal level. I think that allowing people instant access to full gear and equipment would only enhance pvp in these games. On the other hand in a game like EVE skills and equipment are just another of the resources that underpin the whole foundation of the game so perhaps it would be wrong to give people an easy route to power in these cases.


4. I played a game once that had an exploit that made it too easy. There was no challenege left in the game and I quickly lost interest. With few exceptions MMOs are grown up games for grown up people. you can make your own decision as to what challenges you want to undertake and what challenges you want to skip. I am not saying easy mode should be compulsory just that it be an option.

5. Aren't there plenty of free MMOs using rmt which allow this anyway and aren't they all boring grindfests. Yes and yes. I think there is a fundamental business flaw in the free to play / pay for advancement model. There is a huge moral hazard that encourages game developers to make the free gameplay as boring as possible so that people will gladly pay to bypass it. Games should be made as entertaining as possible so people will pay to play them not pay to skip them. For this reason I think the "easy mode button" has to be free to use.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Would you press the "I win" button?

Let us imagine you are playing an mmorpg and that there is a button on the side of your screen which instantly, legally boosts your character to the max level fully equipped with max armour, max stats, max rep, max everything and all unlocks in the game. Let us further assume that once you press it you can never go back. You can go anywhere and do anything you want in game as a max level character but you skip all the pain and joy of levelling up.

Would you ever press that button?

Are you sure?

If you said no, do you really think you could avoid the temptation to press that button as you spend hundreds of hours grinding your way through the game.

If you said yes, what do you think you would do next?

Inspired by this post from Tobold. I will give my own answer in the comments.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Guild Wars Again - Playing with a Paragon

Without really planning it I appear to be taking a break from Lotro. I am sure I will return soon, I have already been tempted by the goodies coming up in soon to be released book seven. In the meantime I have been shying away from heavy mmorpging - sticking to single player games and a bit of online fragging.

Guild Wars is a game I have always intended to return to and this sojourn has hopefully provided an opportunity to do so. Previously I did pretty much everything there is to do in Tyria (original Prophecies campaign) with my Mesmer but I lost interest about half way through bringing a Paragon through Nighfall.

Getting back into an mmo like game is always intimidating. There is just so much to do and to learn. Inevitably lots of new features will have been added. Although Guild Wars does not have the rich imersive world of a full blown mmo the meta game is very complex, more so than any game that I have played outside of EVE. You could spend years collecting skillls and refining builds not to mention pursuing titles and vanity armour sets. I know I could get lost in that sort of stuff so have decided to take an extremely blinkered view of the game and focus on completing the main campaign.

I logged in and took up where I left off (luckily I still remember how to play) getting my paragon as far as the Tihark Orchard mission last night. Sadly I find the paragon a bit boring to play. It's not that Paragons are weak. A Paragon provides strong offensive and defensive buffs combined with moderate helaing and reasonable dps all the while wearing heavy armour. They are an excellent asset to any group and certain paragon builds have even come to be termed "Imbagon" on account of their overpowered utility. Utility is not nessecarily fun however and I don't really like the support paragon role which mainly involves standing back from the fight and shouting repeatedly to buff your fellows. I have opted instead for a DPS paragon which is probably heresy but more fun to play. If figure out a way to link to a Guild Wars build I will do so later but don't expect any brilliant insights from this noob.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Audio books on my phone

I have discovered a new use for my phone. It allows me to listen to audio books while travelling to and from work on Public transport. Struggling to read a real book while trying to maintain your balance in an overcrowded rocking train carriage can be a challenge so audio books make an excellent alternative.

Of course listening to someone reading a book is quite different to reading it yourself. You cannot choose you own pace. It is not easy to flick back and forth at will. You cannot quickly glance back at a just read sentence to clarify its meaning. This means a good audio book needs to be punchy and plot driven. The narration adds a whole new dimension. Writer and reader both contribute to your enjoyment of the tale. When it all comes together, when you get a good tale read by an good narrator it can be an extremely satisfying experience as any child clammering for a bed time story will tell you.

I know there is a bunch of controversy going on at the moment about audio books on the kindle (authors shooting themselves in the foot imho) but there are some excellent sources of free audio books out there with books read by humans instead of computerised speech. Librivox has an extensive collection of public domain audio books. Be warned though their search facilities are quite tortuous. If you like sci-fi, fantasy or horror then the triumvirate of Escape Pod, Pod Castle and Pseudo Pod respectively are essential. These websites offer free high quality genre short stories read to a surprisingly high standard. Donations are voluntary.

Mp3 is a common format for free audio book material but it isn't ideal. Most MP3 players are optimised for music and don't offer the browsing and bookmarking facilities an audio book needs. Thankfully Nokia have a free audio book reader (currently in beta) for their s60 symbian phones. In addition to providing browsing and bookmarking facilities it also uses a proprietary file format that seems to offer about ten times the compression of mp3. Unfortunately they don't offer a converter that runs on the phone ( perhaps phone's don't have the processing power required) so you need to download files on your pc and convert them before transferring them to the phone.

Aside: The download page is here. The audiobook player needs to be installed on your phone while the audiobook manager is installed on your pc. In order to convert mp3 format you need to download the LAME mp3 decoder and unzip it TO THE SAME DIRECTORY as the audiobook manager is installed in. The process is a little bit fiddly but works well enough once you get used to it.

EDIT: I should point out that Librivox are always on the lookout for volunteers to read chapters of books that are in the public domain while the escape pod family of websites are supported by listener donations.