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.

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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

Along with St. Paddy's day Halloween is one of the two festivals that we Irish (along with fellow Celtic races) can claim ownership of. It really is a very ancient Celtic festival marking the end of Summer and the night when the dead come back to visit. It long pre-dates Christianity and is still celebrated as vigorously here today as it was thousands of years ago. Indeed the early Christians realising that they couldn't stamp out the old pagan festival tried to sanitise it by making the following day "All Saints Day".

Of course the nature of the celebration has changed a bit and having exported the festival to the USA we have re-imported some of the commercial American approach. Nevertheless it is a great night particularly for kids. Fireworks and bonfires light up the sky. Children dress up in costumes and visit their neighbour's collecting sweets and treats (the appellation "trick or treating" is an American import but the practice originated here). For Children it is probably the second biggest night after Christmas. There are even rumours of adults who still follow the old religions and celebrate a much more ancient version of Oiche Shamna in secret places.

Wikipedia has two very good articles here and here.

I guess my title is not a particularly apt salutation for the night that is in it so instead I will say:
Oiche Shamna scanruil dhuit

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

LOTRO Housing: An island of my own

In the end Throg went with his heart rather than his head. He bought 3 Frothing Road in the Dwarf Quarter:

It's not big. It's in the same place as my kin hall so I now have three ways to port to port to Thorin's hall but come on. I have my own island. How cool is that?

In case you don't believe me here is a picture:

Believe it or not the feisty dwarf has turned out to have a homely side and has bought some furniture for his new pad. The living room is still a bit bare:

but his bedroom is very cosy:

Over all I am pleased with the housing system. The hook system for placing furniture is a bit inflexible but at least there is plenty of availability.

Other bloggers who have recently become LOTRO homeowners include Sean from Lost in the Grind, Khan from The Battered Shield, Tobold and Ethic from Kill Ten Rats. Humph, just about everybody has a cooler name for their gaming Blog than me!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

More thoughts on LOTRO housing . A dwarf's dilemma.

I feel foolish now that it turns out I had several fundamental errors in my previous post about Lotro housing. My only excuse is that I was reading the official lotro material on housing and perhaps stacking discounts will be introduced at a later date.

I had decided to opt for a small dwarf house - to be close to our kin hall and to avoid unnecessary expense. Now however, given that deluxe houses have a bigger discount and given that there doesn't seem to be a disadvantage to setting up home away from your kin hall I am not so sure.

I think Throg will still opt for a small house. I'm not really a home maker and I don't think I will be getting a lot of furniture and stuff. I can always look for a deluxe house later if I feel like it and the loss of 1G that I pay for a small house won't be too painful.

I am still a bit unsure about location. Although Throg is a dwarf I amn't too fond of the look of the dwarf houses. Plus I already have a free port to Thorin's hall. The general opinion seems to be that eleven houses especially deluxe models are the prettiest but it would be too out of character for a dwarf to buy an Elf house. I could imagine Throg settling down in Bree-land though. Bree is such a cosmopolitan place that all sorts live there.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Sick Bunny

For various reasons I don't normally blog about personal stuff but I just want to mention our beautiful pet rabbit Loppy who is very sick. In fact we are pretty sure she has Myxomatosis and is dying. She has only been with us a short while but we have all fallen in love with her. I have been amazed at how friendly, curious and interactive a little rabbit can be. She is a real bundle of joy. She has been to see the vet twice in the last week and we are bringing her again today. This may be a one way journey. In the big scheme of things a sick rabbit may not seem all that big a deal but she is a member of our family and we are all devastated.

My current "Favourite Firefox Extension"

According to Sitemeter 50% of visitors to my blog are using Firefox. Who am I fooling - I probably account for half the Firefox visits myself! Nevertheless I take pleasure in sharing with you my current favourite firefox extension: Split Browser.

It allows you to display your Firefox tabs in tiled mode at the click of a mouse. Here is an example:

If you are familiar with Lotro you will notice that I have three of the most popular Lotro help sites open side by side in tiles all giving me info about a quest. Not that I resort to such cheating myself of course ;)

The Orange Box: Portal...Meh

I bought Valve's Orange box on Saturday, downloaded off Steam. The Orange box contains: Half Life 2 Episode 2, Portal, Team Fortress 2, Half Life 2 and Half Life 2 Episode 1 and a version of Peggle. I already have HL2 and Episode 1 but apparently I can give the new copies away as gifts, which is a nice touch.

I have only played Portal so far. I finished it on Saturday, probably about five hours of gaming all in. Portal has got rave reviews and it is certainly an interesting puzzle game but personally I wouldn't hail it as as the future of gaming. It seems to me that jumping over obstacle courses in generic indoor maps with muddy brown toxic waste down below is very old school 1990s type game play even with the added twist of hyper dimensional portals. Nevertheless I enjoyed the few hours and the game is humorous enough. Judging by the rave reviews that portal got I am probably the only person on the planet who preferred Prey even though Prey had some serious faults.

It may be that some of my dissatisfaction with Portal comes from the fact that I got a headache from playing. FPS games haven't given me headaches since the bad old daya of the mid 1990's with low resolution low framerate monstrosities. Perhaps the gravity defying vertigo inducing portals themselves contributed to my sore head.

Monday, October 22, 2007

How serious are you about game immersion?

When I play games I like to leave reality behind and lose myself in the game world. Nice graphics and realistic sound effects help me to do that. I have even experimented with 3D goggles and while the technology is too fiddly for everyday use I can vouch for the increased immersion that real 3D provides.

From Slashdot (I won't link to them for fear of overloading their server) I got a link to this gadget which actually lets players experience the blows and wallops as well as the sights and sounds of the game world.

I quote:
Utilizing air pouches--four on front, four in back--the vest nudges and jabs gamers at eight different contact points.

Now I have to say I think this is hilarious but I can just imagine that this thing could catch on. It has a certain macho cachet: "My game hits back but I can take it"!!! Personally though I think I had better brush up on my head shots before I expose my poor body to this thing.

Mind you - it could add a whole new dimension to Death Penalty in MMORPGs.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Thoughts about Lotro Housing

NB New Information Now that housing is out in the USA I realise that some of my thoughts below are based on wrong data. According to this thread on the US forums discounts do not stack so there is no game play advantage to having a house in the same location as your kin house. Also the deluxe house gives a higher discount(20%) than either kin house (15%) or small house (10%). At high levels the discount on hefty repair bills could go some way towards mitigating the higher rent of a deluxe house. Site meter tells me that this is one of my most read posts ever - And now I realise that it has fundamental errors in it. Typical!

The Chapter 11 content patch is due out this week and it will introduce player housing into Lotro. Up to now I have ignored the hullabaloo about housing but seeing as it is so close I thought I had better look into it. Almost everything I know about housing comes from here[ (official) and here (unofficial).

Some questions that spring to mind:

Q1. Why do I want a personal house? Because I just do! It looks like houses will convey two game play advantages: Extra storage and a new fast travel option. However I believe that these advantages are balanced by the cost especially the weekly rental fee. The real reason to get a house is because its fun and you can have more fun decorating it and inviting people around.

Q2. Should I get a big or small house? A big house has "Bragging Rights" and the option of having twice as much storage. If you are buying a bigger house just for additional storage you are making a bad bargain. The luxury house costs an additional 6G up front and 100 silver per week extra in rent. That money could open up a lot of additional storage space in the bank or it could be used to post stuff to alts. I guess each player needs to make their own mind up about how important bragging rights are.

Q3. Where should I get a house? Everyone has their own opinion of which is the prettiest house. Here are some videos:
Men And Elf
Hobbit and Dwarf

Personally I think Bree townships look the nicest but Throg is a dwarf and I think he would be happiest settling with his fellows in Ered Luin.

If you want a house in the most convenient location from a gameplay point of view then you need to consider the following:

a. You will be able to fast travel to your own house and to the kinship house. If you choose a house in a different spot to the kinship house then you will have two new fast travel destinations.

b. On the other hand having a house or a kinship house in a location will earn a discount from local traders. Having both personal house and kinship house in the same location earns double the discount.

c. In terms of locations none of them are right beside a main travel hub. Hobbit houses are probably the closest (to Michel Delving) while Elf housing is probably the most remote (its not actually in Rivendell it's in Falathlorn).

Q4. What if I take a break from playing? The rent even for a big house will not be a problem for regular players (above mid 30's level anyway) but what if I want to stop playing for a while? Well just like in the real world if you don't pay rent you can lose your house and you don't get your money back. Most worryingly you could lose any stuff stored in the house if you don't collect it within a 6 day escrow period. Apparently you an pay rent up to 6 weeks in advance but assuming all this is true then having a house will require a solid commitment to log on at least once every six weeks in order to earn the rent and pay it.

So where does all this lead me? Throg has the cash to pay for a big house but at the moment I don't think it is worth it. My current thinking is to get a standard house in the dwarf district. My kinship is also likely to get a dwarf house so that should allow Throg to avail of a double discount - handy for armour repair bills.

I am learning to Type!!!

Despite the fact the fact that I have dealt with computers and their keyboards every day for at least 20 years I am ashamed to admit that I never got beyond two-fingered typing.

Make no mistake. I am a very fast two finger typist. I can type out a big stremq of letters like this veryt quickly. See the problem?

The problem is that when I try to type quickly I make errors. Then I have to go back and correct those errors. This is an incredible waste of time. I haven't done a survey but I reckon about 50% of my time typing is actually error correction.

Its funny how I was prepared to put up with this at work for so many years but what really brought it home to me was gaming and blogging. When I indulge in game chat my carefully chosen phrases come out sounding like a BsatrDizde vEsrOIn of Leet. Its hard to get respect from mature gamers when you type like that. In blogging on the other and I generally try to clean up my worst typing howlers and that takes time. Lots of time. You may not believe it but every post I make to this blog takes at least an hour to write and much of that time is spent correcting errors.

Enough is enough. In work someone else is paying for the time I spend correcting errors but blogging and gaming is my time. This has to stop!

The good news is that I have discovered a hum-dinger of a free online typing tutorial: I am only up to lesson three but so far it is great. Each lesson introduces a small chunk of new keys to learn and then gives you a block of text to type (without looking at the keyboard!). The program keeps track of your progress by monitoring errors and typing speed and paces the lessons accordingly. The method works. Already at lesson 3 I can touch type any sentence that contains only the letters ASDFGHJKL. I am amazed at how quickly my subconscious is responding to simple repetitive rote learning and internalising the key positions.

With the demise of the old fashioned "typist" touch typing has been overlooked as a life skill. The reality is that typing is probably as useful as skill in the modern world as learning to drive. I am already looking forward to the huge time savings that my new found typing skills will earn me if I keep up the course.

Monday, October 15, 2007

MMORPGs: Whatever happened to the Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds and Spades?

In his seminal 1996 paper on the motivation of players in mmo type games ("Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit Muds") Richard Bartle deduced that interaction between different player types meant that only certain types of game would result in a stable configuration. His four "stable" game configurations are: 1. Achiever / Killer dominated game, 2. Socialiser dominated game, 3. A carefully balanced game where all four player types have similar influence and 4. The degenerate case of a game with no players left.

In the few mmo's that I have played each of Bartle's stereotypes are well catered for in the early game. Achievers get the challenge of levelling up, Explorers have new content to discover, Socialisers have the fun of setting up new guilds and the games have always had some pvp element to provide entertainment for the killers.

As the games have progressed however and in particular as players have matured into end game certain Bartle stereotypes have been catered for to the exclusion of others. WOW's endgame favours achievers above all. Guild wars favours killers with a nod in the direction of explorers due to the complex evolving meta-game. Eve is probably closest to a pure Bartle configuration and favours killers and achievers in pretty much equal measure.

I have to say I find this somewhat demoralising. I am a firm believer in diversity and I think the mix of player types and game-play styles really adds to a game. I want to play in a game that conforms to type 3 on Bartle's list. I haven't played enough of Lotro to foresee where it is going to end up. I hope they don't slavishly follow the WOW road and turn into an achiever focussed raid fest. The continuous drip drip of new content gives me hope though that this will not be the case.

By the way the database of over 300,000 Bartle test respondents at Guild Cafe shows Explorers in the lead at 33% followed by achievers (26%), Killers (22%) and socialisers(20%). This appears to completely contradict Bartles position that "few people are, by nature, explorers". Apologies for deep linking to that Guild Cafe chart but I cannot find the official way to get to it from their site.

In case you are wondering I did take the test and I am rated ESAK (Achiever 40.00%, Explorer 80.00%, Killer 26.67%, Socializer 53.33%). Apparently the most poular game for people like me is Entropia Universe. God Help me.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Lotro: Throg's New Trousers

What is it with trousers in Lotro? They seem to be the quite rarest form of apparel. At level 41 most of Throg's armour was still shiny and new but his aging pants were getting decidedly shabby and even the auction house could not offer suitable replacements.

Consulting his notebook of petitioners asking for a champion's assistance Throg spotted that Callenthon in Nan Tornaeth was looking for someone to slay the undead horror Gurdring. Most interesting to Throg's eye were the fine pair of Explorers legging on offer to whomsoever completed this feat. Forming an impromptu fellowship with a passing Guardian Throg accomplished the deed with ease and claimed his trousers. No more will folk laugh at Throg's red spotted undershorts as they peek through holes in the seat of his pants.

After dispatching Gurdring our mighty dwarf looked to see if any further loose ends needed tying up in the locality. Thanks in no small part to Thog's previous efforts the Trollshaws are far less unruly now than previously but there remained a nasty spider infestation in the North.

These elite spiders are far too tough to tackle solo but Throg got great assistance from his new kinship. Following the directions of the scout Thoroniel the fellowship set out to slaughter the arachnids.

Now no one can question Thoroniels bravery but it seems to Throg that her grasp of strategy is somewhat lacking. Instead of sending the group for one decisive blow against the mother spider Thoroniel continued to set them lesser objectives (thinning numbers, destroying egg sacks and such). This situation was not improved when later volunteers arrived to swell the fellowships ranks. Instead of using the extra force to launch an immediate final assault Thoroniel insisted that the new arrivals first learn the ropes repeating all the pointless prior tasks!

Far from weakening the spiders these trifling blows merely served steel the beasts resolve so that when Thoroniel finally commanded the assault on the Mother Spiders den the party had already trekked the same path many many times and butchered hundreds of spiders.

After such wholesale slaughter the Queen was indeed an anticlimax. No matter - Thoroniel offered Throg a choice of rewards and he chose a nice new pair of boots. When your head is as close to the ground as our brave Champion's is you understand the true value of strong boot leather!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Lotro: Spawn Camping 101

I never played the original Everquest but I have read that mobs were in short supply and spawn camping developed into an art form. Tobold has a nice description of the technique here.

Now Lotro has a fair amount of "kill Ten Foozles" quests but MMORPGs and MMORPGers have moved on. For the most part mobs are in ready supply and it is better to move around hunting out your prey than to sit in one spot waiting for a re-spawn. However a couple of nights ago Throg had the opportunity to participate in a good old fashioned everquestesque spawn camp while soloing in the Misty Mountains. It happened like this:

Larus Sharpshard asked for Throg's assistance in recovering 24 gold ingots lost from a dwarf strongbox (Every Last Ingot). At first Throg thought that grubbing around in the snow for someone else's gold was beneath him but when the feisty dwarf realised that retrieving the gold involved knocking goblins on the head he set to it with glee. A couple of ambushes later indicated that the gold was well spread out among the Goblins camped around Eastern Bruinen Source Region. Just about every second Goblin carried some. Throg's mental arithmetic is not quite up to his axe swinging but I pointed out to him that he would have to slay around 50 goblins to collect the required 24 gold ingots.

In truth there was no shortage of goblins wandering alone or standing in groups around their campfires. It was late though, Throg was feeling a bit tired and had no desire to go traipsing all over the place after goblins foolish enough to stray from their brethren. Instead he decided to situate himself near one of the campfires and kill each new goblin as they arrived.

He found a spot with four goblins close together and another two who wandered by occasionally. At the time Throg had reached the 40th level of proficiency but these Goblins were two to three levels above him (yellow and orange). Nevertheless Throg could tackle any one with ease and even deal with two together at a pinch. Three or more would be suicidal though so Throg had to employ the ancient fighting strategy known as "Breaking the Spawn".

Throg's technique for this was somewhat inelegant but nevertheless effective. First he picked out a safe path that he could flee along when overwhelmed by foes. Then he aggravated one of the goblins with a carefully placed arrow. Throg is no bowman and the arrow did not sink deep enough to cause serious damage but it did alert the target him and his colleagues to Throg's presence. A horde of goblins chased after Throg. This dwarf's legs may be short but he ran like the clappers dodging arrows as he went. Thankfully Goblin's are a fickle bunch and after a short run the wounded goblin's comrades got bored and gave up. This was the moment Throg had been waiting for because the chap with Throg's arrow protruding from his posterior was so intent on revenge that he failed to notice his colleagues departure. He was left alone to face the dwarf champion. Throg was quick to show him his mistake and then repeated the process for each of the dead goblins erstwhile companions. An often overlooked but subtly important step here is to take an appropriate break between each killing. The reason for this will become clear later.

Once all the goblins were dead Thog stood and waited:

It is a little known fact that Goblins have a well organised system of military reserves. When one of their kind is struck down a replacement will surely be sent to take its place after a short delay. This was exactly what Throg was counting on and as each replacement arrived Throg quickly dispatched him, relieving the dead creature of any stolen gold he might be carrying. Now the importance of taking a break between each of the original killings was revealed. This ensured that only one replacement arrived at a time. The wandering goblins who sometimes strolled by seemed to be on a different relief schedule to their camp bound comrades and on a couple of occasions Throg was left fighting two Goblins at once. No matter our hero survived and stuck with his vigil until he had collected all 24 gold ingots.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

/gquit - Leaving Pog Mo Thoin

Is there any nice way to leave a kinship (guild)? I have realised for a few weeks that Throg would need a new kinship but I have been putting off the dreaded moment.

My reasons for changing kinship are solid if selfish. Throg's original kinship is a very small group of casual players. Most of the other members are real life friends and due to differing time schedules and differing levels Throg never gets to meet any of his kinfolk, never mind go questing with them. With such a small group there isn't even much guild banter to while away the time.

It not as if I don't like the other kinship members. They are actually a lovely bunch it is just that the kinship is too small. I need more if I am to continue enjoying the game. I want a Kinship with enough members to be able to find people close to my own level. I also want a kinship with an active web forum so I can chat with other members off-line.

These are selfish reasons and I do feel guilty about quitting. I am the very person who bemoaned the way friendly casual guilds get destroyed as a game gets more serious. Yet here I am leaving a small friendly casual guild. I guess the truth is I want a friendly guild that accepts a casual play style but that is big enough and organised enough to make an impact on the way I play the game.

Having decided to quit the ethical dilemmas continue. What is the best way to go about it: Is it OK to look for a new guild before quitting the last? Should I make a big announcement or just quit quietly when no one else is logged on? Should I make up a story to sweeten the pill or should I tell the bald truth?

Anyway its done now. I sent a letter to my kin leader and a few of the other senior members explaining my reasons and wishing them all the best. Then I quit. I am temporarily kinless but I have my eye on a group that seems to fit my needs.

By the way - the /gquit command doesn't work in Lotro (it is a throwback to WOW) so the title of my post is misleading.

On a lighter note. Here is a picture of Throg of a recently unguilded Throg in a famous spot. It is quite a few years since I read "Lord of The Rings" and even more since I read "The Hobbit" but I still get a kick out of stumbling across traces of the incidents described in the books.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ave Pulvis

Farewell to the Arena. I have decided its time to hang up my Galea and finish with Gladiatus. The problem with online role playing games games is that they have no obvious end. There is no clear exit point at which you can leave the game with your head held high. Gladiatus is a fun diversion but it is also pretty shallow. I knew from the start that I wouldn't still be playing this time next year so I set my own personal goal that I would try to achieve before leaving. I decided to pitch for the top spot of the beginners league (Circus Fighters, level 1 to 10) or as close to it as I could get. As I worked my way up the ladder I noticed the same few players jostling for the top spot. They were all level 9 with astronomical skill levels. To take on these players and win was my personal goal.

At one point the reigning champion even challenged me. I didn't know why - I was several levels lower and he utterly annihilated me. Never mind. Things would be different when I reached those heights.

I was doing pretty well or so I thought. I worked my way down from number 10,000 to about 700 and was beginning to gear up seriously for my assault on greatness. After another successful arena bout I checked the standings again expecting to be somewhere in the 600s. Instead I found I was number 1300. In fact I was number 1300 in the levels 10 to 19 legue. You see I had taken my eye off the ball, hit level 10 and graduated to the next league without ever getting a crack at the top spot of the lower league.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. At first I was stunned because I knew I was still much weaker than those at the top of the "circus fighters" yet I had leap frogged them into the higher league. I now realise that in order to achieve my goal I should have worked hard at advancing my character without ever increasing in level. Combat prowess in Gladiatus is more skill based than level based. In addition there are no level restrictions on uber gear providing you can get your hands on it. Since training and equipment can both be bought with gold even low level players can turn themselves into formidable fighters by earning the cash to pay for training and gear.

You might wonder how a player can earn gold without advancing in level since even working in the stables will earn some XP. I reckon there are two ways: Firstly If a player has a paying account they get a daily wage. The second way is to challenge fighters who are much lower in level than you. You can steal some of their gold but will not get XP for such an easy win. That explains why I was ganked by the reigning champion. I suspect he regularly trawls through the lowbie ranks picking on the weak to stuff his coffers.

I though about playing on in the higher leagues. Things seem to be a bit more exciting - there doesn't seem to be many dormant accounts and I was challenged several times by players trying to progress. Nevertheless I decided to stay true to the spirit of my original goal. I hung up my gladius and transferred leadership of the Rudiarius guild to the next ranking member.

Lotro: Throgs continuing Progress

I am getting back into Lotro.

Throg has dinged 39 and has completed Chapter 4 book 5 of the Epic quest line. Searching for the hiding place of a vile Nazghul wounded at the waters of Bruinen, Throg and a handful of stalwart companions probed the deepest caverns of the 'Shaws troll caves. Those trolls are tough characters (lvl 40 Elite) and none too hospitable towards uninvited guests. Nevertheless Throg and his fellows taught them some manners:

Five brave adventurers tackled Eluil, the first Troll Lair but then two declared they must return home for tea (Hobbits!). Undeterred Throg and his remaining two companions pressed on. A Guardian, a Champion (Throg) and a Minstrel. One to take the blows, one to deal the blows and one to heal the blows. Throg fondly remembered his Uncle Halcin's lessons. Three monstrous trolls a time could not defeat this perfect fighting trio.

Sadly they found no trace of the wretched Nazghul. No matter. To Throg's mind it was worth it just to savour the experience of cutting a few overgrown Trolls down to size.

For myself I am learning to live with Lotro's frustrating control interface. I have abandoned all atempts to be scientific about it and I no longer try to fight the unresponsive skill queue in attempt set up the perfect combination. I simply divide my skills into those which use up fervour to deal devastating blows and those which deal lesser blows but generate fervour. If a skill from the first group is lit up and available I use it and wait till it finishes. If not I use which-ever of the fervour generators is not on cooldown. Theres a few variations involving finishing moves but for the most part that is it. Simple and effective if not quite optimum.

Friday, September 28, 2007

If you have a laser mouse then you need one of these

Its called a Fellowes Optical Mouse Mat and it is made by a company called Brite Mat. It is quite simply the best mouse mat I have every used.

You may know I have been playing Freespace 1/2 for the last few weeks. I spurned a joystick in favour of mouse control but I soon realised that my normal Logitech MX600 wireless laser mouse was not as precise as it should be. It is not a high spec gaming mouse but it is supposed to deliver a smooth 800dpi yet it was jumpy and imprecise - making accurate flying very difficult. I got suspicious when I swapped over to a seven year old Microsoft Optical mouse and found that it was much more precise. A bit of experimentation convinced me that the problem wasn't the mouse but the surface I was using the mouse on.

The problem seemed to be twin fold. First off it seems to me that the laser mouse is quite fussy about the surface texture - and it hates shiny surfaces. Secondly - My wireless mouse is quite heavy with batteries inside and stiction is a major problem. If the surface has too much friction the mouse seems to stick between moves causing jerkiness. Twitch shooters require precise jerks of the mouse jumping from one stationary position to another and stiction absolutely kills precise control in this case.

Originally I was using the surface of my wooden desk but that was hopeless and the grain seems to upset the mouse. I then tried an assortment of mousemats. Most of them were even worse than the wooden desktop especially spongy "comfort" models. The mouse just sinks down and beds in. The best thing I could find was actually the cover of a book that had a matte finish.

I discovered this Fellowes/Brite Mat by accident today when I was browsing in my local Maplin electronics shop. It was advertised as being optical mouse friendly and it only cost €8 so I grabbed one. It is brilliant. It is a hard plastic circle with a slightly rippled matte finish. It has excellent grip underneath due to a high friction underlay yet it presents very low friction to the mouse. The difference in mouse precision with the laser mouse has to be experienced to be believed. The mat is surprisingly small being only 20cm in diameter but because of the excellent precision and the convenience of the circular shape that is all you need.

I can't find any reference to this mouse on Fellowes Website. The reverse of the mousemat says it is made by Brite Mat but I cannot find their web page. Here is a link to it on Maplin's website.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Lotro: Orc Killing and Frustration

Now level 38, with many tasks accomplished in the Trollshaws Throg finds that the remaining tasks there are somewhat beyond his level. The Misty Mountains beckon. The bold dwarf made a sortie there to slay some snow beasts but realises that he needs at least a couple of levels of intensive training before he can really make a useful contribution in those treacherous peaks.

With that thought in mind Throg headed back to that orc infested corner of the North Downs called Dol Dinen. Many Orcs and Trolls have gathered there. No doubt they intend to sneak through the mountains to re-enforce the hordes that wreaked such devastation on the once pretty Hamlet of Trestlebridge. Throg and his fellows made those Orcs pay a dear price for the suffering they caused and he has no intention of letting this new bunch take up where there their fellows failed. In truth judging by the massive war machines they have dragged out of Angmar it is likely that their destructive ambition does not stop at Trestle bridge - Perhaps even Bree itself is the next target.

Throg is not intimidated by massive siege engines - the bigger the engine the easier the target he thinks. Thus he set off with a motley crew of adventurers to spoil some orc plans. This impromptu fellowship killed a great many orcs and trolls but lack of co-ordination prevented them from striking a decisive blow. Throg is often inclined to strike first and think later but even he now realises that a more focused strike is needed - perhaps destroying vital components of the orc war machines and then selectively thinning the ranks of officers and orc champions.


Throg still has much work to do in Middle Earth but I have to admit I am getting increasingly frustrated with Lotro's controls. I have complained about them before without really understanding what is wrong. While I still don't have a complete handle on it all I understand it somewhat better since the addition of an optionally visible skill queue in the Shores of Evendim patch.

I have been playing with this queue visible for the last few days. It shows you an eggtimer for the global command cool down and the aforementioned skill queue. Queue is in fact a very generous appellation because it has a depth of exactly one skill. I now realise that all my previous thoughts about queueing up skills for combo's are completely bogus. You cannot stack up more than one skill. In fact if you press a new skill key while there is one in the queue it will be overwritten by the new skill. An attempt to quickly enter a combo of skills is doomed to failure - because in general only the first and last skills will be executed.

This is particularly frustrating for a Champion like Throg. Throg has to use his skills in particular combinations in order to build up the fervour needed to unleash the most devastating blows. Also since Champion skills favour big slow weapons with large damage per hit he generally uses weapons with a very slow speed. His current hammer is a 3.4 second per hit. That is a long time to wait before pressing the next key in the sequence and it gives lots of opportunity to press too many keys in haste.

Another frustration stems from the chaos that is a fellowship battle. With multiple enemies and multiple fellows on screen at the same time it becomes impossible to see what is going on. I know this must be common to all MMORPGS but with Lotro is just seems worse than I remember from other games. There is the issue of floaty names - if you turn on floaty names you can't see a thing. If you turn off floaty names you can see better but it become hard to figure out who to hit next. The fact that Throg is a melee character makes this so much worse. He needs to select the correct opponent, run up to them and make sure he is facing them in order to inflict damage. I know there are clever targeting and auto run options but I have tried them all and still can't get a satisfactory solution. Many enemies are "runners" who run away once they suffer too much damage. Trying to ensure that Throg is still hitting these guys is just awfully frustrating.

I got so frustrated last night I actually considered restarting as a ranged character. Some of my frustration no doubt stems from the disastrous pickup group Throg headed out with - a group that seemed intent on killing everything in sight except the quest objective. However I am not too bothered about that. I have consciously decided to play Lotro at a very casual pace and not to get concerned about leveling and such. I would be happy to spend an hour slaughtering trolls and orcs if the interface allowed me to see what was going on and the controls were responsive enough to let me feel I was actually contributing to the outcome.


The following article from the LOTRO lorebook goes into great detail about skill timers, skill queues and cooldowns. It appears to directly contradict my experience of there only being a single slot skills queue. I quote:
For example, assume skills A, B, and C are queued up
I don't get this - there is only one slot in the visible skill queue. I experimented with and I am almost certain that activating another skill overwrites the first.

I am totally confused but my game experience remains the same. The controls feel terribly unresponsive.

Sour Grapes

I won't be playing Halo 3 this week, or next week, or any time in the near future. Unless you are blind, deaf, dumb and living in one of the few parts ofthe word not yet connected to the internet you will know that Halo 3 was released with tremendous hype this week. Hype that may apparently be somewhat justified if the normally trustworthy Eurogamer is anything to go by.

I absolutely loved Halo 1 even though I waited to play it on the PC several years after every else. Sadly as a dyed in the wool PC gamer I will have to wait a long time to sample Halo3 - probably until it comes out as a sweetener with Windux2020 tm (I always knew Linus would sell out in the end).

It is an almost universally acknowledged fact (among PC gamers anyway)that the PC with mouse and keyboard control is a superior platform for first person shooters but for quite a while now economic reality has meant that big name titles will come out on console first. Economic reality and the fact that the few old codgers left playing games on PC are too old to endure teenage noob pwnage. Despite our oft muttered reminiscences about Doom 1-D the truth is we are really only able for more slow ponderous titles like World of Borecraft and incomprehensibly complex strategy games.

By the way I am thinking of asking Mrs. Santa Claus to buy me an Xbox360 for Christmas.

Apparently I have a coffee problem

 A couple of weeks ago my wife alerted me to the fact that I had developed an occasional odour problem. This surprised and distressed me som...