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Showing posts from March, 2008

Time versus Skill, Does it Actually Matter?

My recent drubbings at the hands of more experienced COD4 players got me thinking about the age old time versus skill debate. MMORPGs tend to fall into the "time" camp with progression dependent on hours (days!) played while shooters tend to be more "skill" dependent with keen reflexes and sharp tactics required to win. Call of Duty 4 is bit of a hybrid. Players level up over time unlocking new guns and perks. However the game is well balanced and an upgrade in one area will incur a penalty somewhere else. Experienced players don't really get more powerful kit they just have a greater choice of ways to play. Better commentators than I have mulled over this issue so I won't attempt to rehash all the usual arguments. Michael Sng offers a good analysis in his Arson and Arsenic blog . All I will say is that for me the distinction doesn't make much difference. Ultimately time based or skill based both boil down to commitment. How committed am I to putting i

COD4 - I wish you had an auto patcher.

To celebrate the fixing of my PC I fired up Call of Duty 4 again for a bit of online multiplayer fragging. I was pleased to see that there are still plenty of servers and players around. I was vaguely aware that some patches had been released for the game but being more used to MMORPGs I assumed that my game was automatically being kept up to date. A quick google search however determined that the latest version of the game is 1.5 while I was still playing 1.1. It was a little surprising that I that could still play with an out of date client but I set about patching it straight away. This turned out to be quite a nuisance to do. The game has no built in patcher so I had to find the patches on the net by myself. Then I found that the the latest patch (1.5 ) is an incremental one which requires that the game already be patched to 1.4. Finally I was frustrated to discover that neither Infinity Ward (the developer) nor Activision (the publisher) host all the required patches. Some furth

Sins of a Solar Empire = Miracle Cure

A cloud has (touch wood) been lifted from my digital existence. For the last few weeks my computer has been acting up. It started crashing randomly. The events ranged from programs crashing unexpectedly to the desktop all the way to forced reboots. I have been tearing my hair out trying to get to the bottom of it but the intermittent nature of the fault made it almost impossible to track down. On several occasions hope rose after a change appeared to grant several days of uninterrupted computing only to be dragged down once more by the hieroglypic vomit of Microsoft's blue screen of death. I wasted many hours in failed debugging attempts focussed on the most obvious suspects: a recently changed graphics card, a new power supply and a modified chipset heatsink. I diligently performed anti virus scans, chkdsk scans and memtest scans all to no avail. Nothing I did gave me conclusive evidence of the cause of the problem and the intermittent crashes always returned. To tell the truth t

You are only as smart as your search engine.

How do you manufacture polyethylene ? Which German King was the founder of the Hapsburg Dynasty ? How do you solve a quartic equation ? Twenty years ago it might have taken me several hours in a good library to answer those questions. Today I can do in a few minutes sitting at any computer in the world. The internet gives me access to a vast archive of information but the interface between me and most of that information is a search tool. The better that search tool is the more readily I can find the information I want and in a very real sense the smarter I become. Therefore I must thank Tipa for pointing out a free Beta of SearchMe a new visual search engine. It shows you pictures of websites responding to your search rather than text descriptions. I don't know if it will replace Google but it is fun to play with and is particularly handy for finding pages you have seen before but can't quite remember the address. I can't get it to work with Firefox tabs yet but it is


Wow. Just Wow. Last post I told you about the pirate adventure that Bill Harris constructed for his six year old son. I thought it was the coolest thing ever and I couldn't wait to read how it all turned out. As expected Bill's piece about the day of the adventure makes great reading but even I was surprised at just how great it is. What I wasn't expecting was that the core of this piece is not about the wild excitement of a six year old who thinks he has just dug up buried treasure. The real heart of the piece is Bill's painfully honest description of the moment when he realises that in creating the greatest adventure of his kid's life he has also set the youngster up for ridicule at the hands of the cynical old men of first grade. It is a terrific piece of writing and I am not sure if I have ever read a better insight into what it is like to be a man and a father.

The Last Will and Testament of Pirate Pierre L'Orange

A mysterious package arrives at the door containing a tattered piece of parchment that looks like a map to buried pirate treasure. If you haven't been following the story of Bill Harris's elaborate plot to create a real life adventure for his 6.7 year old son then get yourself over to Dubious Quality now and read all about it while the story is still hot. Bill has laid his plans with the loving attention to detail of a true nerd. It is all coming to a climax in a few hours (the morning after a "full moon"...) and I can't wait to hear how it turns out. Bill at this moment I almost wish you were my dad.

Friendly Fire AOE

My NWN2 "main" is a level 10 wizard. He was a bit squishy for the first couple of levels but soon gathered a collection of powerful area of effect spells. At normal difficulty setting the game became too easy because damage does not break crowd control. My wizard could wade into a bunch of mobs, stun them all and fry them all with few aoe spells. I upped the difficulty to hardcore rules. This allows mobs to hit a bit harder but the most significant change is that area of effect spells now damage friend as well as foe. This friendly fire aoe certainly adds a new element of strategy to the game. Position and timing become critically important if you want to avoid incinerating yourself and your team. Fallen comrades are resurrected after each battle so you could play a sacrificial strategy stunning and killing friends and foes alike. That strategy doesn't sit well with a "good" character alignment though and it is risky. Mobs often break loose from crowd control a

Neverwinter Thoughts

I haven't logged in to Lotro in over a week and I am only now beginning to realise how much I needed a break from mmorpging. I am slowly working my way through Neverwinter Nights 2 and I love being able to play when I like and stop when I like. I love playing a game with a defined story line that will come to a definite end. I love playing a party game where I am in sole charge of all the characters. Don't get me wrong, I am normally a sociable, chatty player but for some reason I don't feel like talking while I play at the moment. Despite the fact that NWN2 is hitting the button for me I cannot overlook some glaring problems with the game. My biggest complaint is the appalling character and mob AI. You cannot rely on computer controlled characters to do anything other charge suicidally into battle. Sometimes poor team AI can be got around by using AI modes which constrain AI behaviour. NWN2 has a very detailed set of AI constraints with choices such as whether or not a cha

The Splash Screen Mini-Game

Do you play the Splash Screen Mini-Game (SSMG)? I bet you do. The concept of SSMG is simple enough. Start up any modern game and it begins to load an interminable sequence of splash screens. Game play involves pressing escape, return or some other key combination at exactly the right times to bypass these screens. Press the wrong combination or press the combination at the wrong time and you lose. Losing the splash screen mini-game results in your keyboard locking up and your being forced to sit through a long sequence of advertisements for every single company who was ever involved in any way with the development of the game. I counted 9 different splash screens before I got to the main menu of Neverwinter Nights 2 and I don't think this is at all unusual. Most gamers have become adept at basic SSMG and hardly give it a second thought but there are some advanced aspects of the game that are often overlooked. Some screens can't be bypassed because the computer is actually doing

Lotro: Now with more drunkeness (and a promised expansion)

Typical. Earlier this week I decided to take a break from Lotro. No big deal , just want to do some other stuff for a while. Made a polite announcement in my kinship forums. Then just to spite me Turbine implement what has to be the coolest mmo festival reward ever: A beer keg who's contents are so potent that if you over indulge you pass out and wake up in a completely different part of the world. An kinmate even reported waking up with a hangover in the very nasty Giant Halls region of the Misty Mountains. Some friends he has! If that wasn't enough to tempt me back today Turbine announce the first paid expansion for the Lotro to come with an increase in the level cap from 50 to 60. My resolve is holding firm. I am taking a break. I just have to avoid the internet for a while that's all.

Why don't they have henchmen in World of Warcraft?

or Lotro or other "full featured" mmorpgs. I don't mean limited pets I mean full blown henchmen with capabilities equivalent to those of a player character, something along the lines of Guld Wars Heroes. Henchmen open up a lot of new gameplay possibilties and they solve an awful lot of Looking for Group problems. Henchmen make a game much more solo / small group friendly. I know a lot of old-timers shudder at the thought of playing an mmo solo but Wow and Guild Wars have shown that making a game solo friendly can lead to commercial success. Given this commercial reality I am amazed that more games have not implemented henchmen. If I were designing a game to dethrone WOW I would certainly try and include henchmen. Getting the AI right is always going to be tricky but I think Guild Wars has solved a lot of those issues and may offer a template that can be copied. When Guild wars was released its original hencmen were lower level characters with limted player control and ver

My Blog Doesn't work in Firefox anymore!

Since yesterday My blog front page has appeared corrupted whenever I try to browse it in Firefox. It looks fine in IE7. I diabled all my firefxox add ons and it still doesn work (all I get is a page of un-rendered html.) If anyone knows anything about this I'd appreciate any suggestions. Edit: Problem solved. It went away of its own accord. Good job too because according to sitemeter the vast majority of the visitors to this blog use Firefox. I am a Firefox user myself so I probably skew the numbers but I have been using FF2 for a while and FF1 accounts for 43% of my visitors.

Neverwinter Nights 2

I am commemorating Gary Gygax's passing in my own small way by finally installing and playing the copy of Neverwinter Nights 2 that has sat on my shelf for over a year. The camera controls are a bit of a struggle and as ever the D&D rule set has always seemed bizarrely unintuitive to me but nevertheless I am having fun. It is a refreshing change from mmorpging actually.

I'm sorry, what did you say your name was again?

If ever you are introduced to me please don't be offended when I fail to utter your name correctly less than five minutes after. Its not personal. I just can't remember names. I never could. It seems I was born that way. Over the course of 40 plus years this failing has caused me to commit many social gaffes and has led to a number of embarrassing meetings with past friends who I remember very well in every way except for their name. There was one occasion however when I failed to remember a name on which I look back fondly despite it being embarrassing at the time. I happened in my final years in university. It was not a particularly memorable period of my life. I was drifting through the closing stages of my course slowly coming to terms with the realisation that very soon I would have to leave college and get a real job. I bumped into a girl I used to know from my school days. When I say used to know, I mean this was someone I had suffered a couple of humiliating defeats to