Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In which I abandon my profession and join Xfire

I just spotted that my Blogger profile used to claim I was an accountant. I'm not an accountant I am an engineer and I have no idea how that sneaked in there. Apologies for any confusion caused.

While we are on the subject of true confessions I have decided to open up my gaming habits to the world by joining Xfire. At first I hesitated because it is a kind of voluntary spyware but then I reasoned that plenty of folk who know more about these things than I do are using it. Xfire probably isn't going to turn around and use the data to empty my bank account or blackmail me. I am fairly impressed so far, its a small download and simple install that doesn't seem to hog much resources. It managed to identify all of the games on my hard drive even some more obscure titles and games buried in my Steam directory. I doubt I will be using the chat functionality much but I am quite looking forward to finally knowing how much time I spend playing various games.

I am showing my Xfire mini profile in the sidebar to replace the criminally neglected "currently playing" item. Unfortunately the mini profile only shows the most popular game played over the last week. You can click through for a more detailed listing but who is going to bother? If any one has a better Xfire widget that is compatible with Blogger then please let me know. The few Xfire widgets that listed by Blogger don't seem to work.

Monday, April 27, 2009

MMO - Let us grow old and die already

I wrote this in response to a post by Syp from Bio break about implementing Perma Death in an MMO. I like the idea so much I am copying my comment back here:

I would like perma-death for another reason. One of the things I like least about MMO’s is that there is no end of game. No matter how many dragons you kill there is always just one more dragon. Perma death would give you that ending even if it wouldn’t necessarily be the nicest way to finish a game.

How about making perma death inevitable just like it is in real life. After a certain level players begins to age and get weaker rather than stronger. You can decide yourself whether you want to retire to a tavern to live out your old age in peace or whether to go down in a blaze (literally) of glory fighting dragons to the last.

I actually think a mechanic like this would improve the game experience and enhance my enjoyment of the game. The biggest problem with it is that it probably wouldn’t enhance the developers profits because perma-death gives people an excuse to leave the game.

Perhaps if the game was good enough folks would be motivated to play a new character …?

Previous predictions assesed and a bold new prediction.

Edit: This post is less than 2 hours old and I am already questioning my own sanity. To make such a bold prediction about a game I have never played and about which I have only very limited second hand information is surely foolhardy. Nevertheless the deed is done. My gut told me it was so and I wrote it down. I promise to eat humble pie in about a year or so if my prediction turns out to have been laughably incorrect.

One of the nice things about having a blog is that you can use it as your own personal soapbox to pontificate on "What is Going to Happen according to me". Of course making a prediction and it coming true are two very different things so I thought I would review some of my own pearls of predictive wisdom to try and assess a personal hit rate.

In reverse chronological order:

24 April 2009: Serious Games to Make a Comeback because Casual games lack longevity. Too soon to tell but I seem to be a lone voice on this one.

11 November 2008 Predicting the Gastronomic Singularity. The tone of this piece was slightly tongue in cheek but it did purport to use scientific methods to predict a imminent food related event of life changing proportions. I can now reveal that shortly after that prediction we took on a new aupair who thought herself a good cook but who's curiously Germanic interpretation of cuisine was indeed life changing (but not in a good sense). I am going to count this as a hit.

25 June 2008 MMO's are history: A recurrent theme of a several posts in which I posited that the dominance of WOW coupled with the failure of other games to attract new entrants to MMOing signalled the end of the MMO growth phase. It is almost a year later and not a day seems to pass without the announcement of some new MMO or other so I am going to have to count this one as a miss. However in a follow on post I did expand somewhat and suggest that in order to really succeed a new MMO would have to be radically different from existing business models and I guessed that the next big mmo success might be console based, might be casual/browser based and that it should make less demands on its customers. Sony On-line Entertainment's soon to be released "Free Realms" ticks all of those boxes. It is getting some very positive hype from beta testers. Could it become the real WOW killer? This miss could yet turn into a hit.

23 May 2007: Club Penguin to be next Big Thing I think I can safely count this as a hit. Kiddie friendly Club Penguin has been tagged as the second highest earning western MMO.

26 April 2007: PC Gaming To Make a Comeback For a brief moment it looked like the confusion over the next gen console wars had created a window of opportunity for PC games to regain shelf space on the high street. Sadly it was a fairly short lived revival. Once the new Nintendo / Microsoft / Sony pecking order was established retailers once again pushed PC games off the shelves to make way for console favourites. However the continuing success of PC based online multiplayer games, the enormous popularity of casual browser based games and the success stories of digital distribution have ensured that PC gaming remains very much alive if not the dominant force it used to be. PC games may never again rule the high street stores but maybe they don't have to. I am going to count this one as a draw.

Adding up the scores I am gong to award myself an overall score of 2.5/4 for an average hit rate of 62%. No infallible I grant you but accurate enough to give the purveyors of casual games some grounds for trepidiation based on my current prediction of their demise. PopCap take note!

You may wonder at the methods I use to arrive at these predictions: Rigorous analysis? Charting? Inside Information? Reading of tea leaves? In fact I use none of these methods. My predictions come from the heart unsullied by any brush with scientific method. They rely on a combination of gut instinct and wishful thinking.

Finally I think is is appropriate to round this piece off with a new prediction. I am hereby sticking my neck out and predicting that Free Realms will become bigger than World of Warcraft. This prediction is based on almost no evidence. I am not in the beta and I have only read a couple of blog posts and a Wikipedia article about the game. However the game meets my criteria for a WOW killer. It also has the sales and marketing clout of Sony behind it and significantly I think the fact that Sony has lost so much ground on the hardware side with the lacklustre performance of PS3 means that they absolutely need this game to succeed. Sony needs this game to be huge.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Guild Wars - Don't Forget to get Your Free Storage

If you are currently on a break from Guild Wars you may not have paid too much attention to the 4th Birthday hullabaloo but you should still avail of this once off chance to get a free storage upgrade. Free storage is always good but the offer runs out this week so hurry.

Details of how to get free storage here. The site is a bit slow but the gist is that you log into your NCsoft account and go to buy an extra storage slot, normal cost €8.99. When prompted you enter the promo coupon FREESTORAGE and voila the price drops to €0.00.

While you are at it go have a look at the other game enhancements. Who knows you may be tempted back into the game.

Friday, April 24, 2009

How Simple Business Common Sense will kill Casual Gaming.

Two days ago I wrote a piece surmising that the current casual gaming craze may be coming to an end. Today another "Serious games are dead, Nintendo will rule us all" article gets slashdotted and in a bizarre co-incidence yesterday I had to sit through a business meeting where a potential investor assured us we were all going to be rich if we could only come up with innovations which help competitors ape Nintendo's success with non traditional gamers. (This was a bizarre co-incidence because I didn't think I worked in the games industry).

So was my surmising no more than wishful thinking?

The business case for casual games seems incontestable. Wii, DS, PopCap have all shown the profits that can be made. Common sense dictates that the potential customer base for casual games is far larger than for serious games. There may only be a hundred million serious gamers on the planet even using the very loose definition of serious gamer as being anyone who ever played a video game that took longer than 5 minutes to learn. In contrast there are over 6 billion potential casual gamers. It's a no brainer, right?

However this simple analysis overlooks the huge difference in consumption habits between the casual gamer and the serious gamer. The casual gamer is a one time customer. They will get a Wii with Wii Sports and some singy dancy jumpy game, have a blast playing them for a while before getting bored and moving on. For the serious gamer gaming is a lifestyle. They are repeat customers who come back again and again. This is why I think the news about falling sales of Nintendo Wii in its most mature market (Japan) is significant. The Wii lacks longevity. It lacks longevity specifically because it went after the casual gamer.

Screwing over your core customer base in the tenuous hope of being able to capture and hold onto "the masses" is a bad business proposition. Remember the debacle of "New Coke" .

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

So is Casual Gaming not So Important after all?

A year ago the runaway successes of Nintendo Wii, DS, PopCap and Flash gaming convinced a lot of people (me included) that the future of gaming would be dominated by casual games.

Recently the decline in sales of Nintendo Wii in its home market of Japan has made me reconsider that prediction. Is it possible that casual gaming has shot it's bolt and more meaty games will come back into the spotlight?

From a personal point of view I am not too surprised at the sharp fall off in Wii sales in its mature Japanese market. My daughter got one for Christmas and after the initial novelty of Wii sports wore off we quickly came to the realisation that there were very few good games for the Wii. Most of the top selling titles are party games that can be picked up quickly and are fun to play with friends but ultimately they won't hold anybodies attention for too long. Contrast that situation with my gaming PC. Many of the games I play on the PC have a steep learning curve but once you make that learning investment they can deliver hundreds of hours of entertainment.

If the decline in Wii sales is an indication of a general decline in the stock of casual gaming I wonder if this is related to the unfolding economic depression. When real life is good casual gaming provides a quick entertainment fix. When real life is tough people are prepared to invest learning time in order to get high the quality escapism that only serious gaming can provide.

EDIT: Point of clarification - I am using the general description of casual game here as being a game that requires "no long term commitment or special skills to play" (Wikipedia). I am thinking of games you can pick up and learn the ropes in five minutes. By this definition even the most casual friendly carebear mmorpg counts as hardcore.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What sort of Text Adventure could you make with modern technology?

After reading Tipa's reminiscences about the days of Zork I did a little experiment to see if my own 21st century kids could still be entertained by something as low tech as an interactive story. I made up a simple adventure (using a location I used to live in for source material) with obstacles to overcome, guardians to be avoided and treasure to be found. I acted as both story teller and game master. The episode was something of a success and convinced me that they might be prepared to try this type of game on a computer.

Of course I do remember that those text based adventure games of 1980's could be frustrating exercises. The puzzles were often deeply unfair (you did remember to keep that piece of fluff from the pocket of your dressing gown didn't you?) and the language interpreters were extremely dumb. Almost inevitably a time would come when you were reduced to trying random combinations of nouns and verbs from the games limited vocabulary in an effort to progress.

I wondered how a quarter of a century of technological progress might have advanced the genre. Wikipedia informed me that the more correct name for the genre is now "Interactive Fiction" and that while there is little commercial activity in the field there is still a healthy amateur communnity of creators and players. Unfortunately from what I can see these fan made efforts (such as those available here ) seem to be stuck in a technological time warp. They have the same basic command parsers and complete lack of artificial intelligence that we struggled with back in the 1980's. I guess that this isn't too surprising given the lack of commercial interest but it leaves me to wonder: What could be done today if state of the art computing and artificial intelligence were to be applied to a text adventure game? Would it be possible to build a game with a much smarter language interpreter and a much cleverer environment?

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Best Top Ten List in the World EVER

Gamers with jobs is a site that I wish I could appreciate more. I know the stuff that bubbles up to their front page is a head and shoulders above most of the game writing you find on the web but even though I check the site every day I must hang my head and admit that most of the articles are just too literate and too verbose for me. GWJ is the Times Literary Supplement of games writing and I, to my shame am just a humble tabloid reader.

Nevertheless every so often I manage to focus my attention long enough to discover some absolute gem of an article on GWJ and today's piece by Sean Sands is a cracker. It is nothing less that the top ten list to end all top ten lists: A top ten of the numbers between 1 and 10 complete with annotated explations. Enjoy: Simply the Best

While I am on the subject of guilty confessions I must admit to having a few other "must read" websites on my daily review list that I never quite manage to actually read, Terra Nova for example and also the Escapist.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Honest Scrap, a bit of belated Memery

I am way overdue on responding to Crimson Starfire's nominating me for an honest scrap award but I will do my best to make up for that tardiness by graciously accepting. Thank you Crimson.

As is usual with such things there are rules to be followed:

  1. When accepting this auspicious award, you must write a post bragging about it, including the name of the misguided soul who thinks you deserve such acclaim, and link back to the said person so everyone knows she/he is real.

  2. Choose a minimum of seven (7) blogs that you find brilliant in content or design. Or improvise by including bloggers who have no idea who you are because you don’t have seven friends. Show the seven random victims’ names and links and leave a harassing comment informing them that they were prized with Honest Weblog. Well, there’s no prize, but they can keep the nifty icon.

  3. List at least ten (10) honest things about yourself. Then pass it on!

I fall perilously close to the category of not having seven friends but I will list seven blogs that I consider to be worth reading who I don't think have picked up on this meme before. I have no expectation that those linked to will take up on this post so I hereby waive any obligation on their part to pass it on.

Syncaine over at Hardcore Casual: Pearls of superb gaming insight mixed in with entertaining public flame wars. Grab a ringside seat.

Bill Harris over a Dubious Quality. I really wish Bill allowed comments on his blog but nevertheless it is always an entertaining read. Bill's long running Friday links spot is a weekly treat.

Tipa at West Karana: The world needs more folk who are prepared to devote an entire blog and months of time to writing programs which solve an obscure online puzzle game. West Karana is the more accessible side of Tipa but still well worth reading.

Van Hemlock writes great articles about games that "the masses" have stopped playing, which suits me just fine. VH's written output has diminished somewhat recently due to an unhealthy fascination with these new fangled podcasts. A passing fad I am sure.

Construed because DM Osbon is the nicest guy in the gaming blogosphere.

Melmoth and Zoso over at Killled in a Smiling Accident because they make me laugh

MMeOw: An excellent Lotro blog. What's not to like?

Ten honest things about me ...ummm doesn't that go against the whole anonymous nature of the interwebs??? Anyway here are a few nuggets you may not know about me.

1. My first memorable experience of the internet was downloading programs and files from the enormous file server at White Sands Missile Base back in the mid 1980's.

2. I drive a 9 year old car.

3. My gaming computer is against a window. On the plus side I have a lovely view of a green space with several beautiful mature trees. On the down side I need to close the curtains in the morning to avoid glare.

4. I am an engineer by profession.

5. I used to collect PC Games. I liked having a copy of every significant title. At the height of my game collecting I was buying more than 50 games a year. Now I buy less than 10 games a year.

6. I have never played at least half of the games in my collection.

7. I am happier now than I was when I was twenty.

8. I am unable to warm to the Nintendo Wii.

9. On personality tests I usually score bang in the middle on several key parameters. I tend to see things in shades of grey rather than in black and white. Sometimes this is a strength. Sometimes it is a handicap.

10. I have high myopia (-7) and have worn glasses since I was a child. I tried contact lenses in my twenties but the benefits never seemed to outweigh the inconvenience.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Guild Wars Dagger farming update. Hit me Several Times please.

I deserve it.

After wasting about 8 hours in a futile attempt at farming some decent daggers I decided to follow Melf's suggestion and just buy them.

But there was a problem ....

The trade channel which had always been so lively when I played Guild Wars a couple of years ago had gone deathly quiet. I went to the spots I remembered being busy before: Lion's Arch, Kamadan and Kaineng Centre. I made sure I was on the English-1 sever that was always the busiest one accessible to European players when I was playing before. Still nothing.

I almost gave up trying to buy anything. It seemed that the trade channels were dead. I guessed that a lot of players had moved on from the game.

Then I noticed that the drop down box to select your server (why doesn't every mmo have one?) now allows me to select American servers. No longer are European players restricted to European servers.

I tried America-1 and sure enough the trade channel started hopping. Within minutes I had bought ceremonial daggers and claws of the brood mother for 2k and 2.5k gold respectively.

4.5k Gold for two sets of green daggers. To put that in perspective I reckon I picked up about 20k worth of loot in my 8 hours of unsuccessful farming. I was a bit lucky to get a valuable black dye (worth 6k+) but even allowing for that it is clear that farming for green drops is a complete waste of time. Thank you Melf-Himself for putting me straight.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Guild Wars ... I need advice on farming for green weapons?

Nightflower Blossom, my pretty but deadly Guild Wars assassin has reached level 17 and is ready for her first serious set of daggers. There are many ways to get decent weapons in Guild wars but some of them seem to be a lot more painful than others. I guess the easiest route is collectors because the items they trade for are fairly common drops. Sadly Nightflower hasn't progressed far enough through the factions storyline to be able to access any high end collectors so I decided to look for another route. I was pleased to see that some "rare" green daggers can be got as boss drops in Nightfall even though assassins don't really feature in that game. Having finished Nightfall with my Paragon I can pretty much go anywhere in Elona so I assembled a team of henchmen and heroes and set off to farm some daggers.

Now after several hours of slavishly killing the same mobs over and over with no sign of the desired green drop I can feel myself slipping into the grip of an obsession. Hanchor Trueblade I must have your daggers!

Hanchor is situated in a zone called the Holdings of Chokhin but in order to reset him I cross over into the neighbouring region of Vehjin Mines after each kill. This means I need to kill 20 or so Skree on the way so it takes me about 10 minutes per trip. Not exactly high speed farming but I have still killed him about 30 times so far with no green drop.

In an effort to increase my chances I use henchmen and heroes to help me clear the path and then send them to a corner of the map before soloing the boss. This method has worked for me before but doesn' seem to be helping now. I even tried doing the run in hard mode a few times as rumour has it that the drop rate is improved but the increased difficulty is too much for me. After only a few runs in hard mode all my team are carrying such a hefty death penalty that we can barely kill the boss.

Is there a better way to do this? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Guild Wars: Don't miss your chance to get free extra storage.

Nice to see that Arena net are still adding new content to Guild Wars. Their fourth anniversary will see the release of new PVE and PVP content under the Zaishen Challenge label. From what I can make out there will be some form of daily quests involved. The new Zaishen menagerie seems to be a way to store and swap combat pets. I have never been into pets so I could be reading that wrong.

A couple of new rmt items also announced - pet unlocks and storage upgrades. I see rmt items in Guild Wars in a fairly positive light. The no subscription business model gives a huge amount of gaming for a small investment but if NCsoft have no way of getting additional revenues they are bound to lose interest in maintaining the game. Having a steady stream of income from people buying new characters slots and storage upgrades will hopefully entice them to keep the servers up and running smoothly. My only gripe about NCsofts implementation of micropayments is that they aren't really micro at all. Everything seems to cost around €10. I know that isn't a lot in the bigger scheme of things but given that the games are now heavily discounted and can be picked up for around €15 it seems excessive to lash out another €10 on just one extra storage slot.

Oh and did I mention that we will get a chance to get a free extra storage pane:

Free Storage Pane Giveaway

Lastly, to celebrate our anniversary, we have a limited-time offer where you can get a FREE pane of Xunlai Storage. Our upcoming promotion will be the ONLY way to get this special pane; it is extra, which means you can't buy it later. Keep an eye on the website and we'll explain how you can get this bonus storage.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Guild Wars: Meet Nightflower Blossom, beautiful but deadly.

April fool is long gone so I can finally introduce you to the real Nightflower Blossom, now a level 15 Assassin working her way through Factions. I am enjoying the assassin role so far , even with the starter skills you seem to be able to lay down a tonne of damage on single opponent. It is a much more focussed role than either the paragon or the mesmer I have played before. The assasin's role is to pick a target and kill them, everything in the assasins skillbook seems to be geared towards getting in, making the kill and getting away again afterwards (if possible). Things get messy though against more than one opponent. Those same skills that can take someone out so quickly can drain your energy and leave you helpless against your victims buddies. This is not a character to try and get a survivor title methinks. I have already accumulated 28 deaths in 15 levels (most of them on a particularly difficult quest called "Quimangs Last Stand").

The skill bar I am showing above is actually something of an evolution for me. I dropped a couple of heavy hitting critical strikes skills for dagger mastery equivalents which do less spike damage but have better energy management. This new bar allows me to keep fighting for longer and to keep up a bunch of useful enchantments. The skills are:

My one two three combo:
Golden Lotus Strike (Opener + extra energy if enchanter)
Fox Fangs (off hand)
Nine Tail Strike (closing shot)

A bunch of buffs:
Way of perfection (Criticals heal you)
Shroud of Distress (75% block if health under 50%)
Sharpen Daggers (Attack skills cause bleeding)
Critical Eye (Increased chance of criticals + extra energy on a critical)

And finally a self heal:
Shadow Refuge.

at level 15 I have 9 dagger mastery, 7 shadow arts and 8 critical strikes and this setup works pretty well. It helped me finally kill that b*tard "Quimang" so I must be doing something right.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Guild Wars: Deadlier than The Male

I would like to introduce you to Nighflower Blossom, level 10 assassin and general deliverer of painful death. Does she not look the very image of cold hearted ruthlessness.

Guild Wars April Fools day FTW!

A noob at the Noob Club

Many thanks due to Van Hemlock and co. for inviting me to their Tuesday Noob club for a bit of Guild Wars sparring. Sadly real life intervened to prevent me from contributing to more than a single match but it was fun to indulge in a bit of pvp for my first time in GW.

I was lucky enough to be on the winning team for the only match I actually got to play (a 100% pvp record - perhaps I should retire now!). In hindsight it was a fairly imbalanced match because our team had a warrior a paragon (me) and a healing monk while our opponents had a more eclectic mix of Mesmer / Ele and Ranger. I think the combination of heavy armour and healing was always going to give us the win. Our opponents were spamming blindness skills (Signet of Midnight from the VanH's Mesmer and Blinding falsh from the Ele if I recall ) but both warrior and myself had fast recharging condition removal signets so it didn't avail them much.

From my very limited experience it would appear that getting the team build right is a major element of Guild Wars pvp. Every tactic has a counter tactic but the limited number of skills you can bring into a match means you need to think ahead and try to out-guess your opponents. I am sure that at the heady heights of tournament matches this guessing game within a game has been honed to a fine art form but at the more casual level it probably makes more sense not to specialise too much but to just try and bring a bit of everything. Anyway here is a thought - what about a type of "texas holdem" match where you get to see the builds of a certain number of the other team before you finalise your own team? For example in a four versus four situation 3 players on each side could reveal their build and then both teams go off to build their "secret weapon" fourth player.

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 ...