Saturday, August 29, 2009

A pug to remember

I was strolling through Esteldin when an unasked for invitation to a fellowship flashed across my screen. Unasked for invites from strangers are never a good sign but I was feeling adventurous in the O Henry sense and decided to follow where the finger of fate pointed.

"What Quest are you on" I asked in a tell.

"The Defence of Trestlebridge" came the reply.

Noting that I also needed that quest I clicked accept to the waiting invitation.

There were two others in the group. Not enough for a serious attempt at the defence but a start. I wrote a quick greeting into fellowship chat explaining that I also needed the quest.

"What quest are you on" typed the fellowship leader.

"The Defence of Trestle-bridge" I typed again.

"Can you not talk? Say something" demanded the leader.

Thinking that he must mean voice chat I scrabbled to find my headset. This turned out to be pointless because neither of the other members had voice chat enabled. In the meantime however a conversation sprang up between the pair.

"He must be dumb" said the leader "He is not answering my questions"

"I can see his replies" protested the other

This farce continued for some minutes until the group leader realised that he had accidentally put me on ignore.

"Anybody know how to un-ignore someone" he asked.

I know but I couldn't tell him. I was on ignore.

At this point the second group member decided he had had enough.

"Bye" he said and then he was gone.

At almost the same time the leader spoke to the quest NPC and vanished into the instance alone. Still unable to communicate with him I din't know quite what he intended to do but I reckoned it would be unchivalrous to leave him in there on his own. I went in after him, arriving just in time to spot him leeroying into a horde of Orcs. I did my best to lend a hand but they were many, we were few and with no co-ordinated plan whatsoever we were doomed to failure.

We were booted out of the failed instance and I looked for some communication from the group leader hoping that perhaps he might solve the ignore problem.

Click... without a word he dissolved the fellowship and logged off.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In mmorpgs a lone hero will never be rich

Monday night I logged in to Lotro to play Ceoldir my Loremaster alt. It was quite late when I started so I had missed the peak time chance to do groupy stuff but I wasn't in the mood to do any of the the typical kill ten warg solo quests. I managed to amuse myself for almost three hours by soloing through the dangerous region of Angamur. This was fairly tricky even for a LM because the region is full of elite wights and shades who are immune to many of a Lore masters tricks including the default mezz "Blinding Flash". I had a few deaths but eventually worked out a reasonable routine based around my new favourite skill "Cracked Earth". Kiting the mob while waiting for Cracked Earth's root to apply provided plenty of opportunity to stumble into adds so it kept me on my toes. I enjoyed the session but it was very unproductive in progression terms. I was killing stuff very slowly so I got no more than a quarter of the way through my original quest and the few drops were not enough to cover repair bills.

Tuesday was a completely different story. Logging on at peak game time (7pm gmt) I managed to find myself in three different fellowships one after another (a kinship fellowship followed by two different Pugs) and even managed to knock off a bunch of easy solo quests in the mid North Downs in between. Another enjoyable session but this time a very profitable one.

Oddly enough the Kinship fellowship was probably the most haphazard. One of our kin asked for help with a level 50 book quest so I logged Throg my lvl 50 Champion and volunteered. A few other lvl 60's did likewise. With a group that was way over level we didn't bother with planning and just tore into the mobs. This worked well enough till we got to the final boss who spawned waves of adds at various trigger points as he was killed. With our level 60 dps we managed to kill him very quickly which simply meant all the elite adds spawned together. In the ensuing melee the tank was overwhelmed. Whatever cohesion our little group had fell apart about this time and everybody just stated hitting targets at random. Total chaos but the group was sufficiently overpowered to pull it off in the end.

The second group was pug for Freeing Dori. Nothing spectacular but there was enough of us and the group was balanced enough to do the quest without problems.

My final group was a pug threesome: Ceoldir my lvl 30 LM, a lvl 29 Captain and a level 34 Rune Keeper. This trio of hybrids turned out to be surprisingly flexible - the general plan was for the Captain to tank, Runkeeper to heal and me to dps but between us we also has plenty of buffing, debuffing and oodles of crowd control. We managed to do Tending the Glade and Half-Orc Schemer without a hitch.

Two very different mmo evenings both enjoyable but one of which was far more profitable than the other.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

FEAR 2, for the record

I spent about 14 hours over the weekend playing through FEAR 2. I can't really give much of an opinion on the game because I find it is already slipping from my memory. I take that as a bad sign. There must have been enough in it to keep me playing till the closing credits but I do remember feeling that the game hadn't progressed at all from the original FEAR.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lotro: Cracked Earth

Oatbarton and it neighbouring Goblin camp was certainly a growing up experience for my level 29 Loremaster. While struggling to solo these difficult quests I learned that LM's are not invincible. I also learned quite a bit more about how to use my skills especially one sublime skill called "Cracked Earth". Cracked Earth is not only a very useful multiple target root, it is also one of the most cleverly designed skills I have ever come across in an mmo.

In the first instance Cracked Earth is a ranged spell that roots up to five targets within a 7m area. While rooted they cannot move although they can attack you if you get too close. Very useful against those groups of melee mobs that can make life so difficult for a lone Loremaster.

Now for the first clever bit: It is not an instant root. It takes ten seconds for the root to stick. When I first got the skill and tried it out I was very disappointed. Ten seconds is lots of time for angry mobs to run up to you and start whacking. Of course the answer is that you have to run away from the mobs for this first ten seconds until the root holds. Making sure you have somewhere to run that won't aggro a bunch of other mobs is part of the careful preparation needed to use this skill properly.

The next clever bit is that the root has only 25% chance of breaking on damage. This is a very interesting number. What it means is that if you blast the rooted mobs with an area of effect damage spell you will probably only break one or two mobs from the root. With all of a Lore-masters normal tricks any two mobs are easy meat. With five mobs rooted you could pull three or more about one time out of ten. In these cases you should probably run away and reset the pull.

Another clever feature is that Cracked Earth also includes a nasty whack of area of effect damage damage independently of the root. It takes about 15% off the health of a normal on-level mob.

As a final bit of cleverness Cracked Earth has only a ten second cool-down. This means the skill is available again for use just as the root kicks in. You can if you wish use it to apply area of effect damage to the rooted mobs. This won't extend the duration of the root unfortunately but I guess that would be overpowered. In the unlikely even that you haven't managed to slaughter them all in the original 30 second root period the short recharge time of Cracked Earth gives ample opportunity to try again.

[Aside for Nerds - you can work out the exact probabilities using a binomial probability calculation as explained here.

With 5 mobs rooted and 25% chance of breaking root on damage the chances of breaking the root are as follows:
0 mobs break: 23.7%
1 mob breaks: 39.6%
2 mobs break: 26.4%
3 mobs break: 8.8%
4 mobs break: 1.5%
5 mobs break: .1%

With 4 mobs rooted and 25% chance of breaking root on damage the chances of breaking the root are as follows:
0 mobs break: 31.6%
1 mob breaks: 42.2%
2 mobs break: 21.0%
3 mobs break: 4.7%
4 mobs break: 0.4%

End of Aside]

Thursday, August 20, 2009


As a father of pre-teen girls one is sometime required to bear the unbearable. Thus it was that I set off with my two princesses this evening to see Bandslam the movie with a leaden heart and a heavy sense of duty. I had sat through enough iterations of High School Hannah Montana to know that any musical set in a high school marketed at pre-teen girls was going to be an excruciatingly painful experience.

How wrong I was. Band slam is actually very good. Its like High School Musical has been hijacked by the Breakfast Club. This is a sharp and funny movie. It does descend into schmalz at the end but I guess that's a requirement for the target audience. A major feature of the movie is a really good soundtrack. Instead of computer generated tween pop it has real music by real musicians like David Boweie and the Velvet underground.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Um...perhaps I spoke too soon.

Remember I crowed about how uber my Lotro lore master was. Remember how I suggested that the combination of crowd control, pets, debuffs, healing and damage made him an all round solo killing machine.

Well ... I think I have just discovered his Achille's heel.

Having hit level 29 Ceoldir set off towards Evendim in order to continue levelling into his thirties. One of the very first quests I picked up was "Goblins and Spiders" an on-level solo quest which required me to check out a spider corpse in this nasty Goblin camp:

Notice all those Goblins. Sure they are lower in level than me and sure they are normal and even some swarm type mobs but there are LOTS of them and they are aggro linked in groups with regular patrols and they respawn very quickly. Ceoldir's crowd control is totally inadequate to deal with such numbers. To make matters worse they hit hard and fast in melee which interrupts Ceoldir's skills. Once more than two of them started whacking at him he was unable to complete any of his attacks or skills.

I tried and I tried to whittle them down and sneak in but every time I got mobbed leaving me with the choice of running away or trying to fight them off with little more than my stick.

Conclusion: Groups of fast re-spawning, fast hitting, interrupting, stunning melee mobs = dead Lore Master.

I did complete the quest in the end but I had to employ a rather cowardly trick. I got as close to the objective as I could without aggroing anything and then I sent my pet in on a suicide run. While my poor pet was being beaten to death by every mob in sight I raced in, grabbed the objective and legged it. Not a particularly heroic strategy but an effective one.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Trap the Cat" or "My Wife the Genius"

If you have a single frivolous bone in your body you have probably stumbled across "Trap the Cat" which has been frustrating flash gamers around the world for the last few weeks. It is a maddeningly addictive puzzle game in which you must encircle a cat before he can escape.

After several hopeless attempts during which I always seemed to be one circle behind the fleeing cat I resorted to Google and finally learned how to do it. Even with this stolen knowledge I am still not perfect. Depending on the layout of initial dots I can probably trap him about half the time.

Anyhow, my wife likes this kind of thing so I decided to show her the game, perhaps guiltily anticipating schadenfreude at her mounting frustration with such a difficult puzzle. As expected she took to the game immediately and after one attempt I could see she was hooked. I sat back, deciding to let her struggle for a bit before magnanimously stepping in and demonstrating my own (unearned) prowess.

She trapped the cat on her second attempt.

Beginners luck? No. She went on to trap the cat again.

"I'm good at this game she said."

I said nothing.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Giant Problems

Svalfang is an evil Giant who terrorises North Eastern Bree lands. He is a solo level 30 elite in a region populated by level 20'ish mobs so I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to try out Ceoldir's ability to solo elites.

Soloing Svalfang seems to be quite the rage and I encountered two others trying to tackle the giant alone. While on the prequest Ceoldir saw a level 29 minstrel struggling with Svalfang. The minstrel was almost overcome but Ceoldir chipped in and gave a hand. Later when returning to do the quest proper Ceoldir saw a level 29 guardian going toe to toe with the giant. The guardian was putting up a better fight than the minstrel and it was neck and neck. I stood back and watched but it looked like the Guardians morale was about to hit zero first so I threw in one emergency heal. Giving unasked for heals is always risky but the guardian seemed to be happy rather than upset so I think I judged it right.

Anyway finally it was my turn. I attacked him from range with assistance from the raven pet. I kept the giant de-buffed to reduce the effectiveness of his attacks and whenever I needed to recover I used blinding flash (30 second mezz on 15 second cooldown) to freeze him and give me some breathing space. The fight itself was straightforward but a bit long: The only slightly tricky thing was watching the damage over time (dots) to make sure I didn't waste a mezz.

Ceoldir 1 - Svalfang 0.

Truthfully my level 28 LM didn't haven't to break a sweat to take down a level 30 elite. Proof again if more proof be needed that the LM is a master of soloing.

For variety I tried again later with the bear pet. The bear is hardier than the crow and is intended to be a tank but I soon found that my bear (even fed with an oats and honey buff) could not keep aggro on Svalfang and the fight quickly reverted back to me tanking and using blinding flash to mezz.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Darkfall is for Wimps

REAL hardcore gamers play Wizard101 where a simple duel can last 7 hours! Thank you Tipa for bringing this surprising fact to my attention.

Meet Ceoldir

Meet Ceoldir the alt I spent most of the free welcome back week levelling up. Thanks to the reduced levelling curve and and XP bonus for the week Ceoldir has gained 9 levels in just under 30 hours of play and now sits at the heady heights of level 26.

Up to now Throg a level 60 Champion has been my main Lotro character. Throg is a fiery red headed dwarf who thinks that the best solution to any problem is to hit it hard with a big axe. Despite his temper he is a staunch friend and unwavering ally of the cause of good. He despises the dourhands for sullying the name of dwarves and has cracked many a dourhand skull to show them error of their ways. Throg is not really one for fancy armour (it just gets in the way of a good swing) but he is fussy about the sharpness of his axes.

I love Throg's character and if I had more guts I'd probably try to role play him but I am perhaps a little tired of playing a Champion. The Champion is a straightforward melee role who can dish out sustained single target and aoe damage pretty much forever. They make a good off tank but their only real utility function is the interrupt skill "clobber".

The Lore Master on the other hand is a much more versatile character who combines crowd control with debuffing, decursing and a little bit of healing but also has a pet and can do both ranged and melee damage! That is a quite a range of functions and I died a lot during the lower levels as I struggled to put it all together.

Now in mid 20's I am finally getting the hang of it all and can see the real power of the character. Ceoldir seems much stronger than I remember Throg being at a similar level. By juggling his crowd control, pet and debuffs Ceoldir can handle groups of mobs that would have overcome Throg at that level and Ceoldir can even solo elites.

I was particularly surprised to discover that a utility character like Ceoldir can do some very respectable DPS. He has several sources of damage including staff melee, ranged direct and damage over time skills and also pet attacks. When all are working together mobs die very quickly.

I have taken him into a few PUG groups to see how he fares. Effective crowd control requires greater co-ordination than one usually gets in a pug so I usually adopt a ranged DPS / debuffer role. It seems to work well and I can throw in the odd heal too when required.

I haven't really fleshed out a personality for Ceoldir yet but he is a Lore master so I reckon he is more interested in old books and arcane knowledge than in worldly goods. Just check out the tattered patchwork coat he is wearing.

Favourite pet so far: Raven, can debuff mobs to make them sensitive to fire and can distract ranged mobs.
Normal Killing Sequence: Debuff enemy with Sign of Power Command (reduced attack speed), Launch Burning Embers toasty fire damage dot, while BE is launching apply benediction of raven (Increased Fire damage) which also sends the raven in to attack, blast them with Light of the Rising Dawn if not on cooldown and use the accompanying stun to launch either another burning embers or an improved staff strike depending on how close to you they have gotten. Mob is usually dead by this point.


"Hi there,

Thank you for your payment of 75.00 GBP for LOTRO.

Your game time has been extended accordingly, and your next payment is due before 01/01/70."

Codemasters welcome back week hooked me after all despite my misgivings about timing. I logged on last Monday to say hello to my friends in the kinship and here I am a week later with almost 30 hours of playtime under my belt. I have left Lotro twice before and have come back to the game each time after a few months break so I decided that the £75 lifetime subscription was too good a deal to turn down.

I do have some misgivings. I really don't want to get back into playing one game all day every day. However fellow bloggers like Tipa, Van Hemlock and Wilhelm2451 have shown that it is possible to play an mmo and enjoy it on a less than exclusive basis and this is what I hope to do. I know this will require a certain amount of discipline and I also realise that this almost certainly means that I will miss out on certain parts of the game. I probably won't be able to participate in raiding. I will have to accept that my characters will never have uber gear and won't be able to maximise their stats. So be it. I will try to play the parts of the game I enjoy and see how far it takes me.

Since I left Lotro the end game has gotten a lot more serious. The advent of radiance gear as a prerequisite to raiding has created a definite progression path for Raiding. Casual players can no longer sign up for a raid and hope to get a spot. I am lucky enough to be in a well organised casual friendly kinship but it is very noticeable that the more experienced players are now focussed on progression. It can be hard to balance that with a casual friendly ethos but I think the kinship is strong enough and the players mature enough to work through it. As a confirmed casual player I will do my best not to upset things and try not to leech off the more committed players.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Audio Engineering with Silicone Sealant

I bought a new set of 5.1 speakers a while back but the subwoofer volume was way too high. It has an independent bass control but even on the lowest setting the subwoofer was unpleasantly loud and listening to any track with a bass component (basically any music created in the last fifty years) was painful. I managed to muffle it somewhat with the aid of copious amounts of wadding and duct tape but I was never really happy with it. When playing shooters for example I would invariably opt for headphones in order to avoid jarring noises from the gunshots.

Well a few months have passed and the shininess has worn off the speakers so I decide I was ready to void the warranty by looking inside to see if I could rig the volume pot to have a lower range. I was an electronics hardware designer in an earlier life so I more or less knew what I was doing although I never really worked on audio systems.

Getting into the sub-woofer box was easier said than done. First there was a ridiculous amount of screws holding everything together. Even after the screws were removed I still couldn't work the panel free because of captive cables. No easily snapped on or off connectors here - everything was soldered and then glued in place for good measure. I reamed a couple of the screws trying to remove them even though I have good tools. I cursed the designers. Whoever designed this box clearly had no concept of maintainability. Anyway after about an hours worth of unscrewing and cutting through glue I eventually got a good enough look at the circuits to plan my attack. I found the relevant circuit and was about to modify it when I spotted a capacitor bent over with its leg shorting to a resistor beside the volume pot. Hmmmm....

Sure enough that turned out to be the problem. Straightening that cap tamed the subwoofer down to normal volume levels. I put everything back together and did a sound test with the aid of David Taylor's excellent Sweepgen program.

Sound levels were fine but Sweepgen highlighted some nasty resonances. My 45 year old hearing isn't great but I find that by slowly sweeping a sinewave through the frequency range in manual mode I can spot the jarring buzz of a resonance. Feeling my way around the subwoofer I spotted the cause of the first resonance - a hole left by my botched attempt at removing a reamed screw. Every other resonance likewise turned out to be due to something I removed in my attempts to get into the box. Even the glue around the power cable turned out to be necessary. I finally began to realise why the box had been designed like Fort Knox. Any air leak causes a resonance. Any component that is not 100% nailed down causes another. All the screws and glue were absolutely necessary.

Silicone sealant to the rescue. I glued down everything that moved. It is not pretty but at least it behaves itself now. Apologies for the crappy picture. It was taken with my phone in poor light.

Edit: Oh by the way if you are looking for a piece of music to test your sub woofer then I recommend just about anything by Joan Jet.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Get a Lotro lifetime sub for €110 / £75?

An unadvertised feature of Codemasters Lotro Europe welcome back week is that returnees have a once off opportunity to purchase a lifetime subscription for only €110 / £75. This represents a considerable saving on the normal life time sub of €220.

This offer provoked some discussion on the forums because apparently it isn't available to the faithful who never left the game. Understandably some long term subscribers are upset that departees are being offered a better deal than themselves.

Anyway I am considering availing of the offer myself. Lotro is a game that I have already left twice and come back to twice. Having a lifetime sub will allow me to dip in and out of the game whenever the mood takes me without having to think about subscribing.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Insight into the mind of a Hardcore Raider

If you are reading this you are probably not a hard core raider, not really hard core anyway. Even the hour or so a day it takes to browse a few blogs and maybe pen a few lines of your own is just not compatible with the gruelling time schedule serious hard core raiding demands.

Ethic's Brother Grim is a serious raider in one of he world's top raiding guilds. Today Ethic posted an lovely short interview with Grim giving the rest of us some insights into the world of the really hard core.

The most striking feature of the interview for me is that how Grim belies the stereotype of no-life socio-path that raiders are normally portrayed as. He comes across as a well spoken (I assume young) man who really enjoys his hobby, who takes pleasure out of his achievements and who values the friendship and social aspects of the game. He really doesn't sound all that different from a guy who is into football or photography or Comic book collecting or any of a range of other more traditional hobbies.

Except for one thing.

Grim admits to 6 to 6.5 hours playing each weekday and 14 hours per day at weekends. I assume forum browsing and planning has to happen on top of that. I really cannot think of any hobby or pass time that demands that sort of time commitment even at the highest levels.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Lotro Europe Welcome Back Week: Have they got the timing wrong?

Next week is a free "welcome back week" for Lotro Europe customers. I don't know how these things are normally done but according to Codemasters no signups or re-registration is required all I have to do is run the game. Nicely done.

I will certainly try it (am patching my client as we speak) but I don't think I will stick with it. I am really not in the mood for an mmo at the moment. Personally I think the timing is off. August is still a Summer month with hopes of fine weather, long bright evenings and lots of other diversions on offer.

I think that September would have been a better time, powerful back to school memories, back to Autumn, time to to put aside Summer's carefree pursuits and start preparing for the Winter months ahead.

Other than September I would perhaps suggest the week after Christmas. A time when many folks have holidays and when attention is focussed on indoor leisure activities.

On a unrelated bit of Lotro news Tony from MMEOW has drawn my attention to the fact that moves may be afoot to rework the whole hard mode / radiance gear / raid gating mechanic. Interesting.

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 ...