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.

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...