Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ctrl Alt Del

One of the nice things about being a behind the curve is that every so often you discover something every one else has known about for ages and probably got tired of but is new for you.

So it was that I discovered Ctrl-Alt-Del yesterday and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours browsing through the archives of Tim Buckley's terrific web comic about a group of 20 something gamers and their not entirely successful dealings with reality.

The characters are crazy and likeable and very true to a gamers spirit. Perhaps the most famous episode (and the only one I remember seeing before) is where total gaming addict Ethan proposes to his girlfriend with the aid of a local gaming arcade. Reading through the archives reminded me of many of the games I played over the last few years and reminded me how quickly time moves in cyber space.

In one sense I am amazed that I actually like this comic at all. It is written by and written about twenty something year olds who grew up with Nintendo and Playstations. I am a family man in my forties with family and a job. I didn't start playing computer games seriously until I was in my 30's and the whole console revoltion passed me by. Perhaps it is just the good writing/sketching, perhaps it is a kind of gamer bond that defies age or perhaps it is just that there is a twenty year old geek hidden inside me who spends 16 hours a day gaming and is still afraid of girls - I don't know.

Lotro /Played

6 days 7 hours 19 minutes and 26 seconds.

151 hours in 51 days since the start of the pre-order game. That averages out at almost exactly 3 hours per day. That is on the high side of my own estimate but you can't argue with the game clock or can you

(In case that link is dead it is a post on the lotro europe forums where a player got 136 years from the /played command).

In my case I think the number is correct but in my defence I will point out that I am in the habit of staying logged in while I go off and do other stuff. This could explain some of those extra hours but not many because the game does auto log off after a while.

Twenty hours a week wouldn't get me into a hard core raiding guild but is still a hell of a lot of time for an adult with job and family. We are taking a long summer holiday in about a months time and I will be without a computer for about six weeks. I am sure I will miss gaming but I am very much anticipating the break.

I have been fairly remiss in posting Throg's stories of late but the truth is I am finding it harder to come up with stuff to write about. He has just dinged level 30 and is continuing his adventures in the North Downs. Most of the quests he is doing at the moment are of solo "kill ten wargs" variety so they don't inspire great writing. My quest log is filling up with fellowship quests but I am just not getting focussed enough to go looking for groups and the vernable Pog Mo Thoin Kinship is pretty quiet recently. Anyway here is a nice screen shot of Throg with one of the gentle giants of Kingsfell . These hoar-mantles are elite Aurochs but luckily most of them don't attack.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

LOTRO - How fast are you levelling?

I saw some folks over on Tobolds Blog compaining about the lack of solo content for level 35+. I try to mix solo and group quests but group quests are not always compatible with the demands of real life so it is nice to have a choice. Happily Throg has only got to level 29 in the 6 weeks since I started playing so I am pretty sure that the free Shores of Evendim expansion (with new solo content promised) will be out in penty of time for me. Sometimes it is good not to be the fastest! Even so I would guess I am playing the game an average of 2.5 hours per day. I will do a /played when I next log on and check. I am sure the number will be horrifying.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Throg's Lotro Journal 27 May 2007: That's the last time Throg will trust a Shade.

It is usually considered polite for quest givers to give an indication of the difficulty of a task they want undertaken. For example they will let a willing adventurer know whether the adversaries they will face are likely to be more or less experienced than themselves and where the challenge is too great to be faced alone they will recommend that the adventurer bring a fellowship of willing companions.

Thus when the shade of Emelin asked Throg to defeat the Gaunt-Lord Brudhraw (In the Gaunt Lord's grasp) he took careful note before setting out that the quest was suitable for his level and did not require a fellowship. You may ask what our good friend is doing assisting a spectre but I can re-assure you that he is following a path set out for him by the eminent wizard Radagast the Brown.

Our dwarven champion became somewhat suspicious when he realised that the creatures he encountered on the way to Brudrhaw's chamber were all considerably more experienced than his own 28 levels. Nevertheless he pushed on until he came to the brood-lords den. Here is the sight that now confronts Throg:

It may be noted that the Wight-Lord has no less than 6 attendants each one of whom is higher in level than Throg. Luckily the shades have not spotted him yet. Sometimes it is useful to be small in stature. Our hero hides in the shadows and ponders his best course of action. He cannot hope to triumph if he attacks alone yet should he decide that discretion is the better part of valour he will still have to fight his way out. Perhaps his best course of action is to stay hidden and hope to attract the attention of a passing fellowship. Happily Eriador is not short of adventurers these days and there is not a goblin pit or dragon cave that does not have a path beaten to it by bands of hopeful conquerors so hopefully our hero will not have long to wait.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It's official: Club Penguin is the next "Big Thing"

I like to pretend that I read Terra Nova regularly. You see Terra Nova is written by academics who write scholarly articles about gaming, people who have PhD's in MMORPGs for heaven's sake. I like to pretend I read it but the truth is that TN has slipped from my Daily Fix webroll to my Weekly Fix webroll. I guess when it comes to blogs I am more of a "Popular Mechanics" reader rather than a "Nature" Reader.

That is why then I am about a week late in noticing that the game my kids and wife are addicted to has finally gained MMO respectability. Club Penguin has been written up in Terra Nova.

I have written about Club Penguin before. I have used it, half in jest, when responding to other bloggers as an example of where MMORPGS are going. Now however it is official. To quote Mike Sellers from Terra Nova:
"Club Penguin is ... a great example of a true second-generation MMOG."

I really don't have anything more to add. Club Penguin is a great MMOG for kids that will entertain adults too. It is a safe and fun online environment and the people who run it seem to be genuinely nice folks who really care about what they do. I am geninely surprised to learn that club penguin is also a major commercial success with projected 2007 revenues of $60M and a 50% gross margin. Sometimes the nice guys don't finish last.

I would like to take credit for being ahead of the curve on this one. I know that I "discovered" this new wave of MMOG before many of the seasoned gaming writers who's blogs I read. Sadly I can't take any credit at all. Despite my many years of enthusuaistic gaming I didn't discover Club Penguin. My seven (now eight) year old daughter discovered it from her little playground friends. They are the future. I am the past. I feel old.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Throg's lotro journal 22 May 2007: Sometimes you have to break the rules.

In the dim twighlight of Harangmar Throg and his companions spied on their intended target and considered their grim task. Radagast the Brown had asked for the sigils of gaunt necromancers in order to determine which lord these vile creatures serve (Breeders of the Dead). Unhappily these gaunt-men are powerful elite necromancers of 29th and 30th level each guarded by a group of loathsome wights.

Throg thought of his uncle Halcin and the golden rules upon which the battle hardened fighter had placed so much stress. "Allow your guardian to taunt the monsters and absorb their blows while the minstrel keeps up his spirits with gentle lyrics" Throg remembered and also "The rest of the fellowship must concentrate all blows on one foe at a time".

This however was not a full fellowship. There was only Throg the champion (26th level), A guardian (33rd level), a captain (24th level) and his manservant. A near disastrous first attempt convinced the party that without a minstrel's tunes to reinforce morale their mighty guardian could not fend off the blows of so many while his colleagues took down the assailants one by one.

Desperate times call for desperate measures so the three chose to break the golden rules. While the guardian held a gaunt-man Throg and the valiant captain each pulled monsters off him and fought them in single combat. Throg's own armour allowed him to tackle two of the creatures at a time. With the attention of these lesser creatures distracted the guardian was able to mount his defences and survive the blows of the gaunt-man and his remaining followers. Once the lesser minions were dead all blades could be turned towards the necromancer to put an end to his vile sorcery.

The golden rules were broken but the battle was won none the less. Five gaunt-men gave up their existence and five sigils were returned to Radagast.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Throg's Journal 21 May 2007: What in Thorin's Name Happened Here

Less than a day's ride North of Bree lies the pleasant hamlet of Trestlebridge. Throg never made the trip during his first sojourn in Breeland so he thought to take some time out to visit. He was much taken aback to discover that the once tranquil spot had been devastated the night before in an Orc Attack.

It was not alone the ferocity of the Orcs that cowed the residents but also some strange magic they wove which which seemed to conjure Thunder and Lightning from the very air itself.

Needless to say our fine dwarf's was not long a tourist for survivors of the raid sought his assistance in wreaking vengeance on these loathsome Orcs. In a daring lone raid on a neighbouring Orc camp our hero discovered a strange black powder which seemed to be connected with this mysterious Orc thunder. Then with the aid of a fellowship of adventurers he raided the Orcs again , this time destroying their stockpiles of the vile powder. Throg knows not what sorcery conjured this black stuff but it much pleased him to see the Orcs get a taste of their own medicine as the stockpiles went up with mighty conflagrations.

Tis a pity the The North Downs is so infested with Goblins and Orcs for it is a land of great natural beauty. A passing scribbler scratched this image of the hills for Throg to keep as a reminder of the spot.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Throg's Lotro Journal 17 May 2007: A Hero's Creative Side.

When not battling dire foes Throg likes to spend his time at bench or forge honing his crafting skills. He will never be a tailor I fear for his his stubby little fingers cannot grasp a needle without injury but he is proud to have achieved master journeyman status in both prospecting and forestry. Thus was his attention caught in Bree Craft Hall this evening when a young Elvish Lady called out for help to boil a batch of leathers she had collected. In the cold lands of Ered Luin Elves and Dwarves are not on best of terms but Bree is a melting pot of all sorts and Throg is not a dwarf to turn down the chance of making a few silver. He offered his services to the young elf in exchange for some trifle. She was most taken aback that he sought charge for his services. Throg was too polite to call the lady a tightpurse but he did feel somewhat agrieved that she expected him to work for nothing especially considering fine price that boiled leathers might fetch at auction. Happily it transpired that she had in her possesion some ore that our dwarven friend could use and the pair agreed mutually satisfactory terms.

During the course of their discussions Throg realised that she was not really attempting to cheat him. It seems there are many junior Foresters who will indeed work for free simply to train their own skills. Laudible as this desire for self advancement may be it does devalue the fruits of their labours and lessens the price that may be obtained by trained craftsmen who try to sell their wares.

It is a pity, Throg thinks, that the Crafting Guilds do not prevent apprentices from producing saleable goods while training. It would be better to force apprentices to learn their trade making useless gubbins that cannot be sold. True this would increase the cost of learning a trade but it would also increase the potential earnings of those who are fully trained.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Lotro Patch Day - And no unexpected down time.

Yesterday was Lotro Europe Patch day. Almost every previous patch day has resulted in extended downtime so I didn't expect that Throg would go adventuring last night. I was pleasantly surprised therefore when I managed to log in at 7pm (GMT) for an evening of trouble free gaming. Well done Code masters - it looks like you are finally getting your act together on the Lotro front.

The Patch notes are here. To be honest the only thing that caught my attention is something which hasn't been fixed. It is under Known Issues:

"When in a fellowship, you may not receive credit for the completion of an instance quest unless you yourself speak to the NPC which starts the instance. In light of this, when fellowships plan to run an instanced quest, members who wish to receive credit for the quest should not use the "Travel Now" option. Players should decline this option and instead, speak to the NPC themselves to enter the instance and join their fellows. A change to the Travel Now dialog box will be made in a future patch to help clear up any confusion."

I have experienced this bug way back during Rescue by Moonlight and it is pretty frustrating to complete an instance and not get credit for it. The bottom line is Do Not Use The Travel Now Option when going to an instance. Always talk to the quest giver yourself.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lotro: My User Interface

Although you cannot change the scaling of the lotro user interface you can move things around. Here is the interface I am using:

I've tried to put all the controls and information panels at the bottom of the screen. This means the eyes don't have to move as much in the heat of battle. It also gives a nice unimpeded view of the surroundings in the top half of the screen. It took a bit of getting used to but I now prefer it to the more traditional buttons at bottom, panels at top view.

I have also tweaked up my graphics settings a bit. I am now running with high quality textures, and very high view distance for objects, landscape and frills. I do get a bit of jerkiness in towns but out in the country I get nice smooth frame rates and the visual quality is lovely. Here is a Bree screen shot (the yellow number in the corner is frames per second recorded by FRAPS):

Here is a view of the deserted Lone lands. Notice the higher frame rate:

One thing that I found makes a huge improvement in jerkiness is closing down any background programs. No more keeping a browser open in the background to view help sites. I even went through the open processes in Windows Task Manager and cleaned out some stuff I didn't need. Every little helped. My rig is an Athlon 64 3500 with 2Gb Ram running Windows XP and using a 128MB Nvidia 7300GT DDR3 graphics card.

Throg's Lotro Journal 15 May 20007: Cleansing the Lone Lands

Our normally feisty hero is feeling a little bit down in the dumps this morning having suffered no less than four defeats last night. He pretends to laugh it off but I suspect what galls him most is that these defeats happened in full view of his kinsmen.

The great Kinship of Pog Mo Thoin had decided that the time had come for the scourge of evil to be swept from the Lone Lands once and for all (again). A migty fellowship of warriors assembled with Guardian, Hunter, Minstrel, Thief and Throg the Champion. In truth, at only the 23rd level of proficiency Throg was least among this mighty crew all other being at least of the 25th level but what he lacked in skill he made up for in courage.

The forces for darkness are surely licking their wounds this morning for the kin cut through the Lands as a fire reddened blade might cleave butterfat. First they cleansed Saruman's forces (once again) off the summit of Weathertop. Why they persist in retaking it remains a mystery but each time they are dismissed. Then the party wrought mighty vengenace on the elite dwarves who infest the ruins of Thandobel. Throg gathered a fine collection of dwarven axes. Next they put an end to the reign of terror of three mighty spiders in Amon Ros. The fellowship even managed to rescue a great treasure from the goblin infested ruins of Minos Eriol. In truth the statue wasn't much to look at but the Eglain folk were mightily pleased when it was returned to them .

All in all a great night work but the praise that the good folk of The Lands have heaped upon the Kin has done little to salve Throg's wounded pride. Four times he was forced to retreat. Methinks our mighty dwarf needs to learn that despite the strength of his arm and of his amour he is not well skilled in the defensive arts. When the fervour of battle is upon him he exposes himself most dreadfully to the enemies blows. On each occasion that he was forced to withdraw Throg had caught the undivided attention of one or more elite fighters and was beaten down before he could overcome his foe. In future Throg must learn to control his aggression - lending his blade to the combined efforts of his fellows rather than trying to defeat the enemy on his own.

Following these incidents Throg did some testing to determine his ability to tackle elite combatants while acting alone. The dourhand dwarves of Thandobel proved suitable targets. They include elite dwarves of levels from 17 to 23 among their numbers and with care they can be pulled into battle one by one. The results were not impressive. If Throg does not give in to the fervour and tries to play defensively he cannot even overcome a level 17 elite dwarf. Giving in to the fervour and using his skills to their utmost he can overcome a level 17 elite and is about equal to a level 18 elite (the battle could go either way). These results are not impressive. Throg has witnessed Minstrels and Guardians solo elite enemies that are no more than four levels below themselves yet he struggles to overcome an elite enemy five levels below him. Throg is level 23, he has learned all he able to learn from his champion trainers. While his arms and armour do not possess any extraordinary strengths his equipments is mainly up to date and of the yellow level of quality.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Is Microsoft going to kill Free Software?

About 20 years ago I first heard of Richard Stallman and the GNU Movement. At the time Richard and his supporters were promoting free software with an almost evangelical Zeal. They were also trying to develop a free clone of the Unix operating system. I thought they were interesting but nuts. I actually went to the trouble of digging up and reading the original GNU manifesto a major premise of which seemed to be that programmers enjoy writing software so much that they shouldn't expect to be paid for letting other people use it. To be honest I couldn't see how it would work and I figured that the nerdy name they chose (Gnu stands for "Gnu's Not Unix" a kind of geek in-joke) was proof if proof be needed that they would never amount to anything.

Well in some ways I was right. Here we are twenty years later and the GNU movement has still not managed to put together a complete operating system. The wildly successful free operating system Linux borrows many components from GNU but uses a non GNU kernel developed by Linus Torvalds. If you step back and look at the bigger picture though I was wrong to dismiss Richard Stallman and his evangelism for free software, very wrong. Today the world is awash with free software. Some of it provided under the rigidly anti commercial tenets of the GNU public licence, some of it under similar but less restrictive Open Source licences and some of it under closed source licenses. In fact some of the most popular free software is producesd and distributed by commercial companies who hope to make a profit on the back of free software through advertising, promotion or sales of related services.

I adore free software. It has allowed me to do many things with my computer that I could not otherwise afford. Microsoft is not such a big fan it seems. Fortune magazine has an excellent article (available from CNN) suggetsing that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is about to wage war on free software using a library of Microsoft patents as legal ammunition.

It is plausible I guess that some free software applications do contain algorithms that have been patented by Microsoft but I have to wonder what Microsft intend to do about it. The Behemoth of Redmond is hardly going to go sue an army of bedroom programmers for a slice of profits that by definition don't exist. The free software movement has shown itself to be extremely robust and flexible. Where patent infringments are detected the free software community can probably rewrite applications to avoid infringement. If MS ever did manage to shut down one of the truly useful free software tools then they open themselves up to a world of bad publicity and more talk of abusing their market position.

This is sabre rattling and I suspect it is Sabre rattling directed not at bedroom programmers but at corporate IT departments who may be tempted to stray from Microsoft offerings to try some of the free alternatives. By creating an aura of illegality over free software Microsoft may be able to dissuade corporates from putting their toes in the water.

If free software wasn't any good there wouldn't be a problem but a lot of free software is as good as if not better than commercial products. I suspect that the timing of this Microsoft initiative has something to do with the lacklustre launches of Microsoft Vista and Office 2007. The luke warm reception of both of these products coupled with backward compatibility issues has opened a window for customers to experiment with alternatives. Among the most frightening alternatives from a Redmond perspective are the new free online Office service being offered by Google and others .

EDIT: There is a lot of comment about this over on slashdot much of which focusses on the role of IBM. IBM have positioned themselves as champions of Open Source software so if Microsoft pursue this they are likely to come into direct conflict with Big Blue. We live in interesting times methinks.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Throg's Lotro Journal 13 May 2007: This fellow needs a dwarf's help???

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Kekonnen is the leader of the Earth Kin and his people have been chased into the Lone Lands by a band of savage Trolls. He has asked for Throg's help to destroy these loathsome creatures. Needless to say our Champion dwarf signed up on the spot.

Now, far be it from me to cast aspersions on our brave hero but I have to ask if HE HAS HE COMPLETELY TAKEN LEAVE OF HIS SENSES? If a whole tribe of Giants cannot withstand these trolls what hope does a dwarf have. Throg's heart may be large but his limbs are not. I think our champion had better recruit a fellowship for this commission. A large fellowship.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

My chickens have most definitely come home to roost

Some time I ago I posted about my clandestine campaign to get my family interested in computer gaming. All my attempts to introduce my beautiful wife and beautiful daughters to the joys of first person shooters or war strategy games seemed doomed to failure. Things looked slightly more promising on the MMORPG front - my wife was particularly tickled when she realised you could flirt with other players and still fondly remembers the time when her sylph like night elf priest (level 2) was chatted up by a passing muscle bound warrior (level 3 and a pimply adolescent no doubt). The shine soon wore off however when the girls realised that the whole point of WOW and similar role playing games was to kill things or be killed yourself. In fact that pretty much sums up the whole point of just about every game in my collection. I was stunned therefore when a friend of my girls introduced them to the web based online game Club Penguin and they loved it. It is an MMORPG or at least I am calling it one. It doesn't have any dragons but it is massively multiplayer (perhaps a dozen servers with lots of players on each server), it is a role playing game (you play the role of a penguin). It has a monthly subscription for heaven's sake with quests (ie mini-games) and character progression (you get to buy different outfits). Paradoxically my wife despite resisting my attempts to interest her in more adult computer games has also taken to this in a big way. Late at night she can often be found sneaking into her computer logging into one of our daughters accounts to play a few games of Jet Pack Adventure (purely to earn penguin credits for the kids of course!).

Am I pleased that my daughters have discovered their own interest in a hobby which means so much to me? Of course I am but there is a price to be paid for this shared enthusiasm. When I come home from work looking forward to crashing out in a virtual world of Elves, Dwarves and Goblins I find I cannot get at a computer. We have two desktops but we also have two daughters. I have resorted to dragging out an old laptop which has just about enough horsepower to play ineternet games but even so I am scuppered if my wife needs to use her machine for something.

After all what would you do if you went to log in to Lord of The Rings Online and found a beautiful eight year old sitting at your keyboard obviously engrossed . I guess you would do what I do: wait till bedtime, hoping that perhaps she will relinquish her seat to allow you to earn her extra credits by pwning one of those mini-games. Who am I kidding she already plays most of those games better than I do. I am still the family champ at Puffle Roundup though!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Throg's Lotro Journal 11 May 2007: Assault on Weathertop

Throg waited with his kinsmen on the lower slopes of the giant fortress that casts its shadow over the Lone lands. Saruman's foul Orcs had shown the presumption to take up residence in this citadel but Candaith the defender issued the call for brave warriors to cleanse the rock. Throg and his valiant kinsmen answered that call.

Looking at his huddled kinsfolk steam the night air with their breathing Throg wondered. Did they also feel the fluttering of a hive of bees in their gut? It was not just Goblins and Orcs they had come to face. There was talk of monstrous Wargs and perhaps something even darker. No matter, Candaith's shout heralded the opening of the first gate. The time for thinking was past. Now was the time to fight.

Throg flung himself at the hapless defenders. True to his champion calling he let the blood lust take him. As his fervour rose he became a dwarf possessed. Throg charged into those parts of the battle where his foes were most densely packed so that he might crush several foes with each swing of his mighty broadsword.

Throg's companions included another champion, a hunter, a burglar and a minstrel. The two champions strove to hold the line against the massed foes while the hunter rained death from afar. The burglar used stealth to cripple the most dangerous enemies before they realised their peril. This burglar also proved himself adept at co-ordinating our heroes efforts into devastating conjunctions. No motley group of followers of darkness could hope to withstand this onslaught but such was the number of foes that all would have come to naught 'cept for the bravery of the minstrel. His stirring tunes raised his comrades spirits and spurred them on to victory. Nor did this tunester give ground when orc hordes picked him out and sought to put a bloody end to his singing. He stood his ground absorbing the blows while his comrades recovered themselves sufficiently to come to his aid.

None could doubt the bravery shown by our battle spirited dwarven friend but the tale would not be complete without telling of one shameful incident. While the party rested to recover breath after the defeat of a warg-master and his monstrous pet Throg, still in the madness of his fervour, put one foot down where no foot should be and toppled down the mountain side. Battered and bruised by the fall he attempted to rejoin his comrades but found he could not get through the gates alone. His comrades were vexed by this clumsiness but knew that they needed Throg's mighty broadsword in the confrontations ahead so they came down the mountainside to let him through. This delay gave the orc defenders time to regroup and the party were forced to fight their way up again through paths they had previously cleared.

As if to cleanse the shame of his mistake Throg fought on like a demon. The injuries from his fall were forgotten as he wrought vengeance with every blow. Finally the party reached the very top and confronted Saruman's lieutenant the terrifying uruk Rigul. Rigul was a mighty fighter but our party wore him down. Our heroes smelled victory as Rigul's strength finally waned but at that moment the crafty uruk called forth a gigantic Troll. Empowered by some dark magic this awesome creature threatened to destroy the entire party who by then had spent most of their reserve of strength. This was the time for true hereoes to show there mettle and Throg was not found wanting. True champion that he is our valiant dwarf stepped to the fore as if to offer himself in redemption for his earlier mishap. Throg stood his ground while the unholy creature knocked him senseless. Fate smiled on our band of adventurers and the beast seemed confused that so small an entity should dare to confront it so boldly. Instead of finishing Throg with a killing blow the Troll stood mesmerised over the dwarf's unconscious frame. This respite bought the rest of the party valuable time to recover strength and morale for the final battle. When they were sufficiently restored the group tackled the mighty beast as one. The minstrel managed to revive Throg with a healing melody and doughty dwarf was himself able to lend his sword to the final battle. It took time to wear down the troll's prodgious strength but finally the great beast succumbed and toppled to the ground.

The battle had been won, Weathertop retaken, Saruman's army routed. It was a good night's work.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Throgs Lotro Journal 9 May 2007: Pickled in in the Prancing Pony

Another mysterious bug struck down the inhabitants of Eridor last night and it was late into the night before most adventurers could leave their slumbers and enter the world. Throg and his kinsmen from Pog Mo Thoin decided to celebrate their recovery with a few convivial tankards of ale in the Prancing Pony in Bree. Throg normally has little time for Bree but he will travel a long way for a cold beer in good company. Sadly the beer in the Pony was warm, overpriced and tasteless. Nevertheless it went down with frightening ease - one slug and a tankard was empty.

Our gallant hero is suffering from an inexplicable headache this morning and his memory of the night before is a little hazy. He did take the time to utter a curse upon the landlord for serving him foul ale. His exact words were: "That b*stard must have poisoned me. I had no more than nine or ten tankards before the room turned into a sea with tables, chairs and good folk swimming around in it".

Best not to trouble Throg when he is in this mood as he can turn aggressive. Indeed while in his cups last night he foolishly issued a challenge to combat to all around him. This challenge was taken up by a burglar and a guardian both of whom had considerably more more combat experience than out feisty dwarf. Sadly our dwarf champion did not display the same prowess in single combat that he had earlier diplayed in tankard lifting. Perhaps it is for the best that his memory of he night is somewhat hazy. Interesting to note that the citizens of Bree expressly forbid fighting within the town limits and the combatants had to exit the gates to hold their contests. A good thing in my opinion - it certainly helps to keep the peace within the town.

I will note from having observed these fights that a champion's role in combat is somewhat narrow. He can inflict most grievous harm to his opponent but that is all he can do. Indeed when the battle fervour is upon him our frenzied champion forgets all thoughts of self preservation, neglecting to dodge, block or parry his opponents blows. The Guardian on the other hand has a balance of defensive and defensive skills while the burglar has a most frustrating stun ability - leaving an opponent helpless while the burglar inflicts pain.

It has been said that a champion is the ideal class for facing the dangers of the wilds alone. The combination of heavy armour and high damage output is certainly useful but the narrowness of the champions role can be very limiting. At level 18 Throg tried to solo a level 13 elite tree in the old forest. Our dwarf champion failed miserably and was much disheartened to see a level 18 minstrel take on a similarly possessed oak not long after and vanquish it. The fight took a long time to be sure for a minstrel cannot match the damage output of a champion but the minstrel was able to use stirring melodies to keep up morale for the duration of the encounter.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Throg's Lotro Journal 8th May 2007: Questing in the Lone Lands

Throg has relocated to the lone lands and the Forsaken inn has proven to be a useful base as well as comfortable watering hole. In Bree Land you cannot turn a corner without tripping over some would be hero but adventurers are thinner on the ground in the Lone lands. Throg's services are much in demand. For the moment his commissions are fairly routine - killing beasts and dealing with troublesome goblins and orcs. Our noble dwarf hopes that once he has proven his ability to the good folks of the lands they will send him on more challenging (and more lucrative) missions.

Truth be told Throg feels far more at home in the lonely mountainous wilds of the Lone lands than ever he felt in the lush territory of Bree. The barren mountain slopes remind him of his beloved Ered Luin - all that is missing is a fall of snow. Indded snow would be a welcome change from the heat. Nevertheless Throg is prepared to put up with a little warmth in exchange for some peace and quiet. Something that was in versy short supply in the crowded lands of Bree.

Our brave adventurer has not been remiss in practising his skills, he has attained the 20th level of accomplishment as a champion, has learned to wear heavy armour and learned to fire a bow. Although he has ample strength to draw a bowstring his eye is somewhat lacking - Elven archers have nothing to fear from this dwarf's marksmanship but nevertheless the ability to hit a target from a distance should prove useful on occasion.

Lotro Lag problems.

My two year old home-built PC is struggling to run Lotro as smoothly as I would like. I experience a lot of stuttering in crowded areas such as Bree and Archet. Lowering the graphics resolution helps a lot at the expense of prettiness so it is almost certainly a graphics card defficiency. I have noticed that playing on the Laurelin (Role Play) Server is less jerky than playing on Evernight (non Role Play). I guess there are fewer players on the role play server. Fewer players means less crowds and less effort at rendering for my poor graphics card.

I use the excellent utility FRAPS to measure frame per second (fps) rates - it can even do screenshots for games that don't have this facility. Graphics card reviews give much space to comparing average fps between cards but from a players point of view it is not average frame rate but minimum frame rate that affects game experience. I would love to have frame rates consistently above the 60 frames per second refresh rate of my LCD monitor but I have noticed that as long as a game stays consistently above 30 frames per second it is very playable. My 7300GT DDR3 ( a sort of turbo charged 7300GT) is not a bad mid range card. It gives frame rates of above 40fps in high quality mode in many areas of Lotro but it has an Achille's heel which causes the frame rate to drop to zero whenever I enter and move around a crowded area.

The problem I think is that my card has only 128MB of graphics memory and this is not enough space to store all of the graphics textures in high detail mode. Once graphics memory fills up there is a long delay while textures are read to and from main system memory giving rise to a stutter.

I have settled on a compromise which is effectively high quality graphics mode but with texture quality set back to medium. This gives excellent playability outside of towns and OK playability in towns.

I would love to be able to play smoothly and fluidly at higher quality graphics but I think a new graphics card with more memory would be required for this. I am not due to replace my homw built PC (Athlon XP3500+ 2Gb RAM) for another year but I am tempted by the €120 Geforce 8600GT / 256Mb.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Throg's Lotro Journal 6 May 2007: Rush Hour in the Barrow Downs

Well there is certainly no shortage of adventurers in Bree Land. When Throg set out with a party of fellow braves to rescue the young hobbit girl Lalia he little expected that they would find themselves in a veritable queue of fellowships all rushing to rescue the fair maid. Lalia had wandered into the wight infested Barrow downs following some fanciful tale of a long dead prince. I can assure you that the wights who wished to feast on her tender flesh had no chance against the almighty mob of adventurers who escorted the young lady off the downs. Truth be told she was more at risk from the flailing swords and axes and harps of her rescuers. Those who arrived late for the event were somewhat disgruntled that they had missed their chance for fame and glory but the young hobbitess proved herself a good sport. Immediately following our rescue I noticed her sneaking back to the downs to allow yet another party believe that they were in fact her deliverers.

With such a surfeit of would be heroes in Bree Land it is clear that Throg must move on to wilder parts to continue his adventures. The pursuit of Skorgrim and the Witch King he follows continues and the trail points towards the Lone Lands. Following the defeat of the Wight Lord in the caves of Othrongroth Throg has been commissioned by no less a personage than Gandalf the Grey to fight the corruption they have wrought there.

Do not think that a hero's life is all questing and combat. Even a hero must rest once in a while and after a long trek to the Low Lands our Dwarf Champion enjoyed some fine ale and convivial company in the curiously named Forsaken Inn.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Lotro - Overflow Inventory for Quest Items

Throg was collecting some trinkets for a quest [forging a new blade]in the Barrow downs but he had forgotten to empty his bags and they were full of vendor trash. When Throg picked up the trinkets he got a message he had never seen before:

If you can't read the message it says "Your inventory is overfilled. Items are being held in an overflow area until you remove one or more items from your backpack". Returning to Bree and selling some stuff Throg found the trinkets magically appeared in his backpack. How cool is that? Even with full bags you can pick up quest items. Throg later tried to pick up some non quest trophies and it would not allow him to do so until he made space in one of his bags. It appears the overflow storage only works with quest items. Still it is a very user friendly feature - you can always pick up quest items no matter how full your bags are!

Lotro: A screen-shot of Throg

I'm afraid I am too tired to relate Throg's adventures today but I thought I would include a screen-shot of Throg himself. I am very aware that my blog needs a bit of pictorial colour and I am jealous of the gorgeous screen-shots taken by Tipo in her MMORPG blog West Karana. I am artistically challenged unfortunately so my screen-shot isn't a patch on hers but for what it is worth here is the bold dwarf.

I cropped the image in Picassa 2 and used the Picassa "I'm feeling lucky" button to liven it up a bit. Screen resolution was 1280x1024. I am using custom graphics setting - basically high quality mode but with view distance extended and with textures reduced to medium. My graphics card has only 128Mb of memory and it struggles with high res textures sadly.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Throg's Lotro Jounal 4 May 2007: Further Adventures in Bree-Land

Our aspiring hero has spent much time in the the old forest south of Buckland. To be sure it a dark, tangled place full of dangers.

Venturing deep into the forest in the company of an able fellowship Throg found and destroyed the evil spirit behind the corruprion of the forest oaks [The Haunted Forest]. Unfortunately the trees which the spirit had animated with evil intent still wander the depths of the woods. The fellowship set out then to cull their number earning for themselves the admiration of the good folk of Bree who titled party members "The Root Hewers".

While following the trail of the traitorous dwarf Skorgrim Throg has found himself working with the enigmatic ranger called Strider. Throg does not yet understand all of Strider's motives but it is clear that he and the great wizard Gandalf are concerned about some great evil. Apparently even hobbits have got caught up in this tale which seems odd. Throg cannot imagine a gentle hobbit standing up to the dreadful creatures of darkness called Nazghul that seem to be co-ordinating this particular evil. Without fully comprehending what is going on Throg tries to play his part. It seems that the next stage of this particular adventure will take him to the Barrow Downs in the company of the peculiar gentleman Tom Bombadil. Tom speaks in riddle and rhyme and in truth is not much to look at. He appears to have some power over the creatures of the forest though and Throg is sure that there is more to this happy go lucky gentleman than meets the eye.

Increasingly our good dwarf finds that the tasks he is being asked to undertake are too difficult for an adventurer acting alone. Oft-times it is possible to team up with an ad-hoc group to accomplish these objectives but Throg feels that the time has come to take up with a more stable group of partners. Many groups of adventurers in Eriador are calling for new bravos to muster under their particular banner of kinship but following a chance encounter on the Barrow Downs Throg has decided to throw his lot in with a muckle kinship of fellows going by the name of "Pog Mo Thoin". Being unfamiliar with the phrase Thog asked what it meant to be told that these are ancient Hibernic words of power. Will this ancient invoctaion bring good fortune or will the presumption of using it call forth the wrath of the fates. Who knows? Only time will tell.

Lotro maps and help sites

Using maps and help sites does feel like cheating so I generallly try to find stuff out for myself in game first but there are times when a good map or a quest database is an essential aid to enjoying a game. Lotro is a new game so the help sites are only getting off the ground but there are already some very nice sites out there. Here are some of my favourites.

Sooner or later someone is bound to come out with an interactive map for a new MMORPG and th efolks over at Middle Earth Headquarters have produced an absolute humdinger. Their maps are based on the game maps and they have a filter tool and a drop down search tool to allow you to find anything you need. Combine this with the hand drawn maps regions that are not mapped in the game from The Brasse and you need never get lost again.

The Brasse has a lovely humorous style and they have a nice quest database as well. The quest information is very good but not very well indexed. I like my quest databases to be indexed in various ways (ie all quest in a region or all quests in a chain and so on). Lotro wiki is showing signs of doing a very good job of this but is still very incomplete. I think that this wiki has the potential to be a really good help site but it needs more contributors. Warcry network have large collection of set of lotro databases (quests npcs items skills and so on. The quest database is still far from complete but they have quite good search facilities. On the down side I find the in your face presentation style of warcry to be very unpleasant to use. Allakazam have a lotro site that I find just awful. The site itself is unpleasant and quest entries appear to be just copied from in game text. The only reason I mention it is because its database seems a little more complete that some of the other sources. MMODB also have a very comprehensive database but it gives even less infromation than Allakazam. At least its visual style is not as offensive.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Why I hate alts in mmorpgs

I hate alts. I hadn't realised this until I read a suggestion from Tobold about MMORPGS offering a "fast level" mode for players who have got a main character to a high level but for some reason need to level a second character (an alt). For example they might want to try out a new race or their guild might have a shortage of a particular class but don't want to endure hours of tedium grinding the low levels again with the new character. The suggestion is a good one but it doesn't fill me with joy because I really hate the whole idea of alts.

For me an mmorpg is about playing a role in a fantasy world. Immersion is hugely important and becoming attached to a character is hugely important to me. Nothing and I mean nothing shatters this fourth wall like Throgmage the sorceror announcing in chat - "Oh I see we are short of healers for this raid. Hang on a minute and I'll switch to Throgmonk". For all I love Guildwars it is probably the worst game in the world for this because of the relative ease of getting an alt to the level cap. All long time players have a stable of alts and when embarking on a co-operative mission you will often be asked questions like: "Will I bring my necro or my ranger?" How can you become attached to characters that have become so interchangeable?

So I would like to get rid of all alts permanently. I guess before I make this decree law it makes sense to look at why people use alts and see if we can meet the genuine needs of players in other ways.

One of the reasons people use alts is as a method of overcoming inconveniences in the design of the game. For example many games do not give players adequate storage space for items so players create a string of alts called mules purely to store stuff relying on the ingame postal system to shuttle stuff back and forth. Like-wise a player may leave an alt parked at an auction house to eliminate the hassle of having to travel back and forth. Wouldn't it be much better to simply fix the design of the game. With a bit of thought this could even be done without breaking immersion. Giving players access to large storage is a no-brainer but how about introducing an "auction catalog" that players could access from any postbox allowing them to mail in bids and goods for sale. Effectively every postbox in the game becomes an auction house.

Another reason why players use alts is that players sometimes find themselves in situations where they really need access to skills or abilities that their current class and/or craft profession does not have. Perhaps a player with tailoring skill really wants to use a device only an engineer can use or perhaps the player's guild needs more healers and wants the player to level up a priest. I think these difficulties can be again put down to bad game design. If a tailor needs an engineering gadget let them buy the gadget off an engineer and use it. Do not include items that are locked to certain professions. A bit more creativity might be required to solve the lack of healers but I think it is still doable in a non immersion breaking way. Despite its immersion breaking failings Guild Wars does have a number of good ideas that would help here. First off there is the possibility of allowing henchmen. Probably woudn't work for a main tank but with apologies to any devoted healers out there I have to admit that computer controlled henchmen can play whack a mole very well. An other approach from Guild wars is to allow characters to learn skills from another class. Obviously this needs some thought about mechanics. For example a warrior may learn monk skills but this isn't much use if they don't have the mana to use them and cannot equip healing gear. I could certainly incoporate multi-classing into my game reality without breaking immersion "Throg was a skilled hunter but on reaching his 50th birthday he felt a desire to look behind the surafce of things and explore the spiritual side of existnce. He spent 6 months in a temple learning the monk arts." A benefit of this to game developers is that it could be used to extend content - players who reach the end level in one class may be tempted to go back and learn the skills from other classes.

Of course some people create alts just to have fun experiencing content as a different type of character. In truth I don't object to this so maybe I'll pull back on my call for an outright ban but allowing people to create an alt character on the same server as their main encourages practises such as mentioned above to arise. In addition to spoiling game immersion such player invented work arounds allow game developers to put off fixing major flaws in game design. One draconian solution would be to deny players the right to have more than one character on any given server. This has the disadvantage that you won't be able to use you alt characters when playing with your friends.

Many of the abuses of the alt system (and I haven't even mentioned twinking) rely on the in game postal system to transfer items and cash between characters. Perhaps controls could be implemented here. How about a straightforward ban on transferring stuff between characters on the same account. I know this could be got around by using a third party as a go-between but it might be just enough hassle to put most people off.

In the design of LOTRO Turbine seem to share some of my feelings about the use of alts. There is a hefty 20% charge levied on items sent through the post system which penalises anyone using an alt for storage or crafting and may even dissuade people from twinking (but I don't think there is a levy on cash). The role play elements of familial relationship (allowing characters to be sons and daughters of other characters) could also be used to explain alts within the context of the game.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

LOTRO: Throg's thoughts on the recent influx of immigrants from Azeroth

Since leaving his rugged mountainous homeland of Ered Luin Throg has been struck by the number of adventurers who have recently come to Eriador from far away Azeroth. We are not certain why so many bold wanderers should choose to migrate at this time. Could it be that Azeroth has run out of dragons?

Throg is sure that Azeroth is a very fine place. Indeed his own ancestor Camuun won much reknown as a hunter in those fair lands but our doughty dwarf has mixed feelings about the benefits this latest invasion.

On the positive side this influx of migrant adventurers makes it easy to form fellowships in order to carry out commisions that would be too difficult on ones own. To give them their due many of these former Azerothians are well skilled in the arts of combat knowing when to attack and when to defend.

On the other hand Throg is tired of the constant comparisons between Azeroth and Eriador. At first they complain because we do too many things differently in Eriador and then they complain because we do too many things the same.

A more difficult objection is the apparent disdain that many of these blow-ins show for the rich heritage of life, culture and adventure that Eriador has to offer. Many of these visitors seem to care only only for priceless treasures that may be found in the deepest dungeons of our fair land. One hears them calling out in the market place that they are forming kinships to focus on these the pursuit of such treasure trove, an occupation they bizarrely call "end game". This causes Throg to chuckle somewhat for if they choose to describe the life of an adbventurer as a "game" then surely "end game" refers to the demise of the adventurer, which may precisely be their fate when they chose to delve into troll infested depths. They treat the good folk of our land with contempt . When they do lower themselvs to undertake minor commissions for the inhabitants of our lands they make it painfully clear that they are only undertaking such quests as stepping stones on their route to the real treasures of this "end game" they aspire to.

The disrespect they show to our citizens pales into insignifcance beside the disrespect they show to our established vocations. Instead of steadfastly working at a profession building first proficiency and then mastery over time they take on a profession pursue it maniacally until they reach some personal objective and then abandon the profession entirely to try something else. They also mock the interdependence of vocations. Instead of trading materials with other crafters they employ teams of endentured servants (known by the Azerothian term "alts") to produce their own raw materials. These poor alts are treated little better than slaves. In seeking to undermine the hallowed principle of interdependence of professions they threaten to undermine the lifeblood of trade on which our whole economy depends.

RX 550 How a bad value gpu might just be my all time favourite

Quick recap about my cunning plan to overcome the GPU apocalypse last year: We bought a prebuilt Dell with an RTX 3060ti for my wife who is ...