April 2011


Since I stopped having to drive 90 minutes to work every day I’ve been listening to a lot less podcasts. Which has seriously effected my ability to set my teeth into some poor unfortunate podcasters. Way back in December, Ryan from the Warcraft Lounge podcast dropped me an email asking me to give their podcast a look and a subsequent review. However, seeing as they had only just begun I begged off, and asked for some time as I wanted them to get some episodes under their belt before I castrated them. So almost half a year later, here we are! And we’re up to episode 15 on their podcast, which are enough episodes to get an idea if this is a podcast worth listening to. I also wanted to make sure that they were actually going to stick with it; I mean, how many bloggers and podcasters have come out all guns blazing and a couple of months later they’re about as active as a nun’s sex life. So I wanted to see if they were going to stick with it, and stick with it they have. So far.

The podcast gets off on the right foot immediately for me, with some Herb Ellis inspired jazz tunes giving us a nice introduction. And then we’re into the show. Your two hosts are Ryan and Chris. Ryan is the calm guy who probably thinks through all the possibilities open to him before choosing what socks to wear in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that in a bad way; he’s just a laid back dude who calmly makes his way through all options open to him. He doesn’t rush in and make any pronouncements off the hip. His co-host Chris, on the other hand, is the sort of guy who likes to rush in and give you his opinion immediately, whether you want it or not. Sometimes this is good. Sometimes it seems that his brain’s connection to his mouth has been switched off. I’ve taken umbrage to some of his comments before on this blog, which he foolishly tried to defend, although I did commend his effort. And when Chris is wrong, he’s wrong in a big fucking way. But hey, I’m someone who can relate to that, so who the hell am I kidding? Keep in mind though that I often find myself agreeing with Chris. I’m not saying here that he’s some big mouth idiot, not at all. I’m saying that he shoots from the hip, and when you shoot that fast you can hit and you can miss.

The good thing about this is that with this podcast we have some difference of opinion between the two hosts. There’s nothing worse than listening to a couple of people agreeing with each other for over an hour. I mean, my golden rules for throwing a party are to put as many people as possible in as small a space possible with at least two guests who hate each others guts for a bit of social stimulation. Mind you, Ryan won’t come right out and say that Chris is full of shit at any given point of time, but you just know he’s thinking what the fuck is this guy saying? Which is great. You need to be able to get into a podcast, to mutter out loud in your disagreement or agreement with what someone has just said. I like this, this is good. If I was going to pick a blogger to do a podcast with I wouldn’t hesitate for a second in choosing Tobold.

So what do they cover in this podcast? Apart from all of your general stuff, ie what they’ve been doing, what’s going on with patches, and stuff like that, this podcast tends to focus on two main areas: how to make gold and raiding. And it does feel like a lounge. They’re chatting away and doing their thing, and over the last few months they have settled nicely into their respective skins. Technically it’s good; there aren’t any horrible microphone bumps, heavy breathing, or horse laughter. And there isn’t a chat-room so the hosts are completely focussed on what they’re talking about. They also come up with some interesting perspectives which I like, as I can steal them for a couple of blog posts. Thus far they haven’t had any guests on, so I’m assuming that this isn’t their thing.

So it gets a thumbs up from me. Check it out if you want to listen to some interesting discussion related to WoW. That is if you’re still playing.

Nils has been running with the question of why we automatically need PvP in a sandbox world with an interesting series of posts. The latest post and discussion is based around a comment he received on his blog. As if I’d give my own commentators such exposure – bah! Let them eat cake!

Anyhoo, a lot of discussion comes down to the fact that we can easily divide players into two groups – builders and destroyers. Builders are those who revel in the act of acquiring resources and carving a name for themselves through stint of their own efforts. Destroyers are those who revel in kicking your sandcastle in your face and building a name for themselves through fear and outright terror. The question is how to accomodate both types of player in an online sandbox universe. Not allowing any form of PvP in such a game would detract from the value of what you are building – how valuable is something that you can never lose? I remember once playing an early game of Civilization where I went up solo against the AI on an enormous map. Obviously I never saw my opponent and I was allowed to build and dally to my hearts content. Quite boring it was.

But having your careful creation smashed to pieces by someone much more powerful than you for no other reason than he can is enough to make many builder-type players quit the game in disgust. My solution to the problem would be to have such altercations heavily reliant on player level. To whit, a level 50 player can attack any player construction of similar level or higher with no restrictions. But as soon as he attacks a player of lower level then he begins to hit a wall of artificial restrictions. These could take one of two forms; a debuff to the players stats to bring him into line with the person he is attacking, or a series of game consequences heavy enough to make him have to really ask the question of whether or not this act of destruction is worth the longer term pain.
And this is the key point; the destroyer-type player never sees any real long term consequences for their actions. The key is not to make it impossible to be a destoyer, but to make it such that you would really have to think and plan how to carry out your attacks, and how to live with the consequences later. A player who carves a niche for himself as a bandit would not be able to waltz into town and pick up some supplies. And the bandit would need somewhere to store his ill-gotten gains, leaving himself open to attack and plunder by builder players who have finally had enough of his antics. Public execution would not be possible if he were captured, but banishment to another part of the would could be, as could the stripping of all his assets to be divided up amongst his victims.

There is one more key point to how this would work. If player buildings are to withstand attacks then they have to be strong, but it should take time and effort to construct them. This makes sense when you consider that builders are more likely to invest time in building. The more time that you invest the harder it is for destoyers to waltz along and knock it down. But is the time investment real time or game time? EVE online uses a real time investment process which requires players to log on once a day, set their training, and then leave. The advantage of this is that players who don’t have much time to play the game are not at a disadvantage to those who are able to devote countless hours per week to their hobby. The disadvantage to the EVE system is that it’s not much fun; click a few buttons and then log off. If you can combine this system with actually making the building process a joy to partake in then you would encourage players to be online more often, thus making it more probable that they are around when someone comes by who wants to kick sand in their face.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the Jack Aubury series of historical novels by Patrick O’Brian, so dipping my toe into Pirates of the Burning Sea seemed like a good idea. It was Spinks who first drew my attention to this game, but I’ve had to wait for a decent computer and a good internet connection to jump into it. A 7gig download later, with a few silly muckaround moves trying to set it up, and I was in. The first thing I noticed was that there are only two servers, one in the US and one in the EU. I’ve always played on EU servers, so this time I thought I’d give the seppos a shot and went for the US. The servers information includes the population levels for each faction you can play. They went something like this:

Pirates: Very Fucking high.
British: Really high too.
Spanish: Kinda high.
French: About as high as a midget.

Being one who likes to root for the underdog, and following on the trevails of Aubury and co, I went French. Phillipe is my name, and shooting people with my pistol is my game. Now I just had to choose a class, of which there are three; Naval Officer, Privateer, and Freetrader. The Freetrader class is the one designed to really get into the economic side of things, and seeing that this is meant to be a sandbox MMO, I decided to give this a shot. Character generation was cool as well, with lots of ways to make Phillipe look like a weirdo. I’m not going to bore you all and go into detail about what I did or where I have been so far. But there are a few things that I need to tell you.

The only social interaction that I’ve had so far has been an unannounced invitation to a guild of some sort, which I immediately declined as it has been my experience that only really desperate and shitty guilds hang around spamming players in the newbie starting zone. There has been some chat going on, but I’ve been content to do my own thing and try and get a handle on the game. The keybind feature won’t let me bind abilities to my mouse wheel, which is disappointing. But saying that, I’ve reached level 6 and I haven’t been swamped with abilities, which is very nice. I’ve picked up point blank shot for my pistol which comes in very handy when I shoot people in the face after boarding their ship. Point blank shot is an ability from the talent tree, of which you have two choices; one for your sailing skills and one for your swashbuckling ones. And the talent tree is simple and well though out, not confusing at all. Who’d a thunk it?

I’ve read a bit on other blogs about this game, and everyone has said how poor the avatar melee combat is. Well, I think it’s fine. Not jaw-droppingly sensational, but not crap either. Another complaint has been that boarding a ship amounts to a total chaos of confusion with enemies rushing this way and that. Once again, this is something that I have no complaint with as I can think of no other close quarters melee combat which would be more hectic and confusing. But while avatar combat might be a little twee, ship combat and sailing is pretty fucking awesome. Right from the sight of cannon balls skipping over the water and making satisfying holes in enemie’s planking I just knew that this was going to be cool. You start off with a generic sailing boat with a couple of cannons and some swivel guns, but I was able to sink and dismantle the nasty pirates which were after me. Mind you, it’s not as simple as you shoot, he shoots, he sinks. A ship to ship battle can take around five to ten minutes of real time. Sailing is realistic, so you better work out what it means to be sailing into the wind. After a few quests I got a ship upgrade which I immediately christened, Verge Puissant, which is French for Mighty Penis.

On the subject of quests, this has been the first time in a very long time that I have been reading quests with interest. Another thing that I have been doing is having only a couple of questlines on the go at the same time. There are no stupid collection quests here, and the storylines are interesting and nicely written. What’s more, I’m not in a rush to progress. I’m enjoying the game and savouring the moment, something which it has been quite some time since I’ve last experienced. I’m still a complete noob, I don’t even know what the level cap is, but so far Pirates of the Burning Sea is turning out to be one of those games where you want to be playing before you open your eyes in the morning. Here’s hoping it lasts.

This morning I woke up early for some stupid reason, only to discover that the coffee machine wasn’t working. There’s an upscale cafe type place behind the house, so I wandered down there in a state of bleary disheveledness to get my coffee fix. The guy behind the counter was bright and cheerful in a way that annoyed me no end.
“Good morning!” he beamed. “How are you today?”
“Fucked,” I replied. “Give me a coffee to go.”
I left him with a slight crack in his Sunday morning facade. Sometimes I wonder why I play games when I get so much more satisfaction out of real life.

I’ve cleaned up the blogroll. Got rid of a bunch of blogs which have ceased to be, even if I was hanging onto hope that some of them would start up again. If they start up again and you’re the blogger, let me know. I’ve also added a few blogs which I read a lot but access through other bloggers blog lists. I figure that if I read you then it’s only fair to stick up a link. I read Tobold just to see where I can disagree with him and call him names, but ever since he wrote a sanctamonius post stating why he doesn’t have a blogroll, (even though he obviously gains by being on lots of blog lists), I can’t be bothered adding him. Particularly after the other day when he referenced me in an off-hand manner but without a link. Call me a scum-sucking pile of dog manure who sleeps with geriatric wombats if you like, but not linking after you disparage me is just damn rude.

The rogue blog list has been severly culled. If you haven’t posted anything in over three months then I figure you’re gone. Once again, if you’re the blogger and you start up again, let me know. Also if there are other rogue blogs out there that I don’t know about, let me know and I’ll check them out and add them to the list. I really wish my blog hoster, wordpress, would give us a feature where our blog list updates new posts in real time like blogspot does.

Today I’m going to begin playing Pirates of the Burning Sea. Expect some write-ups on that next week. Now all I need to do is go get another cup of coffee …

[Dale]: Good morning everyone and welcome to another of our continuing series of interviews with the lesser known people who inhabit the World of Warcraft. Tonight it is my very great pleasure to welcome the lovely Chameli Banaphash to our studio. Chameli, lovely to have you here.

[Chameli]: Thankyou Dale, and may I say that that is a lovely jacket that you are wearing.

[Dale:] It’s a Hugo. So Chameli, you are the haberdasher in Dalaran.

[Chameli]: Correct. My small boutique is located upstairs from the Threads of Fate.

[Dale]: But that isn’t all you do, is it?

[Chameli]: No, Dale. I am also the representative for the Dalaran merchants association, which is why I asked to come on your programme.

[Dale]: Tell me about your association.

[Chameli]: Well, we represent just about every business in Dalaran, with the only exception being the pet vendor. And we have some rather large concerns which the city authorities are not taking seriously.

[Dale]: What are your concerns exactly?

[Chameli]: Ever since the launching of Cataclysm and the closure of the portals we have seen business drop by over 70%. A lot of us were previously merchants in Shattrath, and before that we had shops in one or more of the major cities on Azeroth. With each expansion we have had to move and open a new shop, selling our old shops on at great loss to ourselves. When we were approached by the Dalaran city elders to open businesses here, we were informed that the portals would always stay open and that things would not turn out as with Shattrath. But here we are with takings plummenting and not only are they doing nothing, but they are talking of raising our rents to cover their own increased costs. People do not understand the great difficulty now of operating in Dalaran.

[Dale]: What are some of the challanges which you face on a day to day basis?

[Chameli]: The most difficult is the ability to receive deliveries at our stores. Before we used to use the portals during the early hours of the morning, but now we are forced to fly everything in. And the city elders control the flights, it is a great monopoly. On top of that is our ability to attract more shoppers to the area. People just are not interested in coming here as before, unless it is for specialised training or materials that they cannot get anywhere else.

[Dale]: What about relocating back to Azeroth?

[Chameli]: The only cities at present with vacancies are Silvermoon City and The Exodar. It just does not bear thinking about.

[Dale]: Theramore Isle?

[Chameli]: Please, Dale. Try to be serious.

[Dale]: Have you tried meeting with the city elders?

[Chameli]: They did call a meeting but we had a very low turn out, and besides, I don’t think the elders were serious about it.

[Dale]: Why not?

[Chameli]: They set up the meeting in the Violet Citadel.

[Dale]: So what are your options?

[Chameli]: They’re quite limited at present but if forced we might approach the new Lich King and see what goods his army need to buy.

[Dale]: They could do with some nice hats.

[Chameli]: That they could.

[Dale]: Chameli, thank you very much for coming.

[Chameli]: It has been my very great pleasure.

I can’t seem to be able to download the European version of WoW onto my new laptop due to me being in Australia, and at such a huge file size you do not want to get to the end of the download only to be told it isn’t applicable or something equally horrifying. So my return to see how rogues are doing has been once again delayed until my Italian computer turns up from across the seas. But I do want to get into a game. I’ve been playing Civ V again as I have it on steam so easy to get back into, but you know a game is unrewarding when you’d rather randomly surf the internet than play it.
I was going to put a post up here asking my readership which game they’d like me to dip a toe into, but I considered that this was both lazy on my part and fraught with the peril that they might ask me to play something like FFXIV, which would probably induce me to start sawing off my own limbs. So I’ve spent the morning doing some searching around for a sandbox MMO to have a crack at, (I also spent the morning purchasing tickets to see Herbie Hancock at the Perth Concert Hall in May, yeah baby!) I’ve been looking at sandbox MMO’s from Darkfall to Craft of Gods and I have an observation to make; why do all game developers automatically assume that a sandbox equates to PvP content? Sure PvP is great, and one of the reasons that I play games, but usually all it entails is setting your flag to combat so that you can kill anyone around you. A sandbox world should be much more than that; it should be about making moral choices with consequences. Age of Conan went sour for me right about the time I was running down a beach on one of the islands off Tortage when two players ran past me from the other direction, stopped, killed me, and then proceeded in their original direction. At least if this happened in WoW then there would be some justification for this; ie Horde vs Alliance, but in AoC there isn’t even that. Random killings without meaning are worse than unfair – they are boring.

There has been a hell of a lot of complaining going on in the MMO blogging world of late, of which I have been at the forefront. The problems identified include, but are not limited to the following:

1: The loss of player community and the absence of responsibility for ones actions and behaviour;
2: The realisation that cutscenes might work the first time you go through them but that they quickly sour on repeated viewings;
3: That story works wonderfully in a single player game, but is anathema in a multi-player game on a virtual world;
4: That by relying on story developers doom themselves to continually having to come up with new content.

I think that a sandbox MMO that gave players the freedom to create their own patch of the world, whether on their own or in conjunction with others, would go a long way towards resolving these problems. But what developers seem to spend putting most of their time into revolves around trying to constantly balance classes for PvP. I not only think this a waste of time, I think it is wrong. A high level mage should be able to take out most other character classes of a similar level, as long as it is both harder to reach such a level on that class in the first place and if there is a player driven law-enforcement entity which makes such behavior fraught with unwelcome consequences.

Anyway, so I’m casting around for an MMO and I’m not interested in a WoW-clone, ie Rift. Any ideas or any games that you’d like to me to check out for you?

The uproar that has occurred over Blizzard’s proposal to reward tanks for dipping in a toe into the LFG system has been very interesting. One comment that I have seen come up over and over again is that Blizzard has to encourage, (bribe), players to do things in the game that are not fun. Which is astonishing for a couple of reasons. First of all, 5 man instance runs used to be, (a long time ago I might add), one of the most enjoyable things to do in the game. The second reason this is astonishing is the simple fact that Blizzard has designed the Cataclysm expansion around Heroic 5 mans. So we have a problem here. Blizzard has even admitted in the patch notes that doing these things might not be very fun. It’s all a giant head-fuck really because, I thought so anyway …

… that a game is supposed to be fun.

A while ago, a couple of expansions to be exact, Blizzard decided that they didn’t want to lose any players at all, even those who were regular nasty ninja trolls. Because those types of players still pay their monthly subscription, and there may well be a lot more of them than we realise. But because those players couldn’t get a dungeon run on their realm due to their terrible reputation, Blizzard thought up the LFG system.

The above is partly true. It leaves out one bit though; the fact that a lot of other players wanted the LFG system as well. It’s called instant gratification. The problem with it is that you can not only never get enough, but each bit that you get makes the next part less gratifying. I originally wanted to title this post, “No Retard Left Behind”, but it’s just not accurate enough. This game was not about the accumulation of shinies as an end in itself. It was about a game experience that sometimes rewarded you with one or two shinies as an added bonus. WoW has become the MacDonalds of videogames.

The LFG system promotes anti-social behavior, the dual spec system opens up tanks and healers to have a DPS spec, and the homoginization of classes means that any DPS is as good as the next one. The solution to the problem of there being very few tanks willing to brave the LFG system is going to have to come down to a lot more than a bag of goodies. That is unless Blizzard has already thrown in the towel. I’m of the opinion that WoW is not fixable anymore, for the simple reason that the core player base has changed so much over the last two expansions that attempting to take it back to what it was, essentially rebuild the WoW community just wouldn’t be feasible. People have been saying to take away the LFG system and revert back to a realm only search engine, but that just isn’t possible with today’s playerbase. They tried it in a half hearted way by making Heroics difficult again this expansion and look how well that has turned out.

Successful businesses are like successful people; they learn from their mistakes. So what can Blizzard learn here? They could learn that a game’s community is quite possibly the single most important aspect of an MMO’s success and that you tamper with that at your peril, and that hopefully they will take that lesson across to their new Titan MMO and not make this same mistake again. That’s the response most of you would like to see me write, yeah?

However, there is another lesson that Blizzard can learn from this. Tampering with a community to try and appeal to the lowest common denominator will certainly fuck up in the long run, but while it lasts you can make a hell of a lot of money.

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