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Syp has an article over at Massively giving 10 reasons why MMOs should stop using dragons. I’m assuming that the article is more about him having a deadline and an article quota rather than this really being the most burning issue in MMOs today (dragon pun only slightly intended).

It’s a fair point that dragons in MMOs are, by and large, used poorly – Deathwing is a one-note rampaging beastie (but then, to be fair, most Warcraft lore comes from the WTF school of terrible writing) and Guild Wars 2’s dragons mostly fail to live up to their billing as awesome forces of nature (Zhaitan takedown winning the award for most anti-climactic boss battle ever). Looking beyond MMOs to film and to pen and paper RPGs, however, we have plenty of examples of dragons that are so much more than a big bag of hit points with AoE attacks. For example…

Smaug – the original in modern fantasy writing, and now that he’s on the big screen it turns out that he’s Benedict Cumberbatch, whose voice and acting chops are guaranteed to make anything at least 200% more villainous, even when he isn’t actually a villain. Seriously, that Sherlock is one scary high-functioning sociopath (his words, not mine).

Lofwyr – FASA’s Shadowrun RPG was an inspired mix of fantasy and cyberpunk – so inspired, that it spawned not one but two successful Kickstarter games. In Shadowrun’s universe, when magic returned to our world in the early 21st century, so did dragons, and Shadowrun dragons are smart sentients as well as being big, scaly, firebreathing and greedy. Lofwyr took one look at the modern world and promptly exchanged a huge pile of gold for a controlling interest in the Saeder-Krupp megacorporation. Dragon as CEO, because why nest on top of your wealth when you can invest it?

Dunkelzahn – also from Shadowrun, this dragon went one better and ran for president, because dragons are fully intelligent sentients and capable of relations with other races that go beyond “Raargh, burn, destroy!” Sure, Dunkelzahn may have had dark secrets and his own agenda, but then allegedly so does Barack Obama… :)

The Dragonstar Dragon Empire – however, the prize for dragons seeking political power goes to Fantasy Flight Games’ Dragonstar setting for the D20 (AKA D&D 3rd edition) pen and paper RPG rules, which could take your fantasy characters into space to discover a galaxy where mages store their spellbooks in PDAs and the stars are ruled by an empire dominated by dragons of all kinds in an uneasy alliance, while non-dragon races are relegated to second class citizenship. Actually, since the drow make up the secret police, arguable everyone else gets THIRD class citizenship…

Gloranthan Dragons – because political power, however, is nothing compared to the dragons of Glorantha, the fantasy world best known as the original setting for the Runequest RPG. Gloranthan dragons have spent most of history asleep, but their magic is so strong that their dreams manifest in the real world. Greg Stafford, the setting’s creator, once described an occasion where a dragon woke up… and an entire mountain range disappeared, because the mountains had only been there because the dragon was dreaming of them. This had fairly drastic consequences for all of the people who had been living in that part of the world, so all things considered it’s probably best to let sleeping dragons lie.

So, after getting all disgusted over asinine raid attunements I’ve actually ended up with a copy of Wildstar after all. You can blame ‘social factors’ for this one – some of my old gang from Guild Wars 2 are playing, and are co-founders of a guild there together with some of their old mates from LotRO (and are allied with a guild connected to MY old kinship from LotRO), and browsing around the guild looked pretty fun, with an ethos aimed at the “over 30 and have kids” crowd… so I picked up a copy and am now busy levelling up Tremayne the Engineer (now at level 38), with a side order of Charonis the Medic (all of level 17), putting most of my ESO activities on the back burner for now.

I still think ESO is the better game – or at least, the better MMO, because Wildstar arguably has tighter design as a game. ESO has atmosphere, a sense of place, stories and character interactions that evoke genuine emotional responses. Wildstar is so busy swinging a wrecking ball through the fourth wall (and the other three walls, and the roof) that even when you lead a group of soldiers into battle, one of them dies and you have to go tell his grieving widow it feels more like they’re playing the hoary old war movie cliché for laughs. Wildstar stakes no claim to be literature – as I suspected, it’s a Saturday morning action cartoon series, but if its emotional range doesn’t really go beyond “shits and giggles” at least it delivers competently on that front.

What Wildstar does have is a lot more mechanics to get your teeth into. Where ESO pretty much throws the toy box of abilities wide open and lets you pick and play with anything you like, Wildstar’s classes are more narrowly defined but then have deeper customisation within that narrow definition. If talent allocation and optimising skill rotation make your eyes light up, then Wildstar has more to offer – it truly is a child of (vanilla/BC) WoW, only now with 100% more active dodging. The crafting system is – well, it’s either deep, or insanely over-complicated. I’m inclined towards the latter, because some of the complexity seems to be bolted on for the sake of adding complexity. Maybe the Chua designed it. Unlike ESO’s crafting, which is pretty easy to grasp but requires dedication and investment of skill points to master, Wildstar’s features multiple mechanics, talent trees, achievements and a darts-like mini-game where you try and hit a target to make a specific item, and elicits a reaction of “huh?” even from Mensa-level IQs.

If I had just been soloing around and maybe trying PUGs for the group content, I doubt Wildstar would have grabbed me much. However, the social factors kicked in – I’ve been lucky enough to fall in with an active guild of like-minded individuals, which is always the key to finding a game to stick with. It helps that Wildstar scales everybody’s level to group content, so I’m not stuck looking for a team of people at my exact level, and a level 50 joining some of us lowbies for an adventure doesn’t carry us through trivial (for them) content. Chances are I’ll be turning up on Nexus regularly but more for the company than the scenery.

Wow. That’s as in “Gee golly gosh”, not “World of Warcraft”.

Syncaine has fallen out of love with Darkfall on a number of what seem like quite reasonable grounds, including lousy design decisions and quite incompetent forum management of an excessively toxic community.

Then that community followed him to his blog and proved his point for him. I advise anyone who doesn’t mind having their faith in humanity’s essentially good nature crushed to take a look so that they can then go back to the forums of their own game of choice and be able to remind themselves that they aren’t THAT bad.

I’d probably ask that anyone who DOES mind having their faith in humanity’s essentially good nature crushed to go take a look anyway, before that faith of theirs leads them to voting for someone who makes public policy on such erroneous assumptions :)

And if by any chance the title of this post is wrong and you can find an even worse comments thread, please don’t send me any links to it – I don’t actually need my opinion of the denizens of the internet lowered any further, thank you.

I see Massively’s regular ESO column has been taken away from a writer who was determined to troll the game he was paid to cover and handed to someone who enjoys the game and seems to want to punch the naysayers in the face.

It’s click bait. But it’s entertainingly written click bait. And at least this way, the coverage of the next update to the game might actually be coverage of the update to the game, and not spend three quarters of the article on “I hate ESO because I’m on the cool kids bandwagon”.

In other news, my main character is now level 41, enjoying the quests and stories in The Rift, and a werewolf. There’s something pretty disturbing about wolfing out, chasing down people running in fear from the sight of it, and then having the game reward you for munching on their corpses. Not nearly as disturbing as one or two of the storylines I’ve encountered, though. Jef’s column has a very valid point, which is that the content locusts who blitzed through ESO for the XP have short-changed themselves as much as someone who necks a bottle of 18 year old Glenmorangie for the sole purpose of getting drunk ASAP.

I think ‘ve been fairly clear that I’m not currently playing Wildstar, and on the whole it’s not really appealing to me. On the other hand, part of me does want to pick up a copy or at least blag a guest code from somewhere to try it for a few days. After all, I’ve stuck my nose in on almost every major Western MMO release so far.

So I’d like to thank Jeromai for alerting me to Wildstar’s Twelve Step Program for raid access, which has done a lot to quell those urges. Not because I was in any great hurry to raid in that game, in the same way that I did very little raiding in LotRO, RIFT or SWTOR – but in all of those games, the option was there once you reached level cap and took a little care with your gear. Wildstar, however, sets out its stall by raising an impudent digit and yelling “FUCK YOU, CASUAL!” to any poor sod who doesn’t want to make it their life’s work just to get in the front door of raiding. Look, I played vanilla WoW – I’ve been through attunement for Molten Core, Blackwing Lair and Onyxia. That chart looks to be on a par with doing all three of those attunements just to get into your first raid.

I do particularly like the comments on that Wildstar forum thread about “Casuals don’t deserve to raid”. Thank you sir, now I know that I can only have any sense of worth once I have earned your respect by enduring a tedious and degrading initiation ritual. Oh wait, I’m not some 19 year old trying to pledge to a fraternity, willing to walk on my lips through busted glass to get the respect of the cool kids. I’m old enough to be that kid’s father and my sense of self-worth is pretty well-grounded, thank you. If I’m going to raid, it’s because it’s something that’s fun to do, and at best Carbine have declared that they’re A-OK with hiding the fun behind a wall of grind. At worst, I have to suspect that behind that wall may just be… more grind.

So hey, Wildstar, at this point I’m going to have to flip your digit right back at you and jog along. Give me a call some time when you actually WANT players.

Courtesy of the BBC we get news that Mind Candy, the evil geniuses behind Moshi Monsters, are developing a game called World of Warriors. Because that totally won’t get abbreviated to something that might get it confused with World of Warships, or possibly some other game already on the market.

I hasten to add that anything I may know about Moshi Monsters comes purely from having to sit through the (mercifully short) Moshi Monsters Movie with my two daughters. And from having the Moshi Village app installed on my iPhone. Which was put there by daughter number one and which icon I do not personally ever tap a finger upon.

I can’t help feeling sorry for ESO. Here’s a game I’m still enjoying playing, and people I know are still enjoying playing the game, and despite rumours to the contrary there’s at least one other blogger out there enjoying the game. It’s been the target of ranty twats on Youtube looking for something to rant about because apparently they’re internet famous for ranting, and people moaning that having a subscription is evil because apparently $15 is more than some can afford for entertainment (seriously? If you can’t spare $15 for entertainment, you better be doing something other than playing a video game all day anyway), but at least it has a regular column devoted to it over at Massively. Their game-specific columns may take developers to task when they fall down on the job, but by and large they’re by people who are enjoying the game, for people enjoying the game, and about the cool things happening in the game.

Oh dear.

That post doesn’t exactly exude love for the game. In fact, I’d categorise it as a hatchet job on Zenimax’s first update. Let’s see… out of 16 paragraphs, the first 6 (or 7) are basically a long complaint that we were promised an update every 4 to 6 weeks, and this one took 7 weeks from launch date to arrive. That’s over a third of the article based on the fact that this update missed a promised (if it can be construed as an iron-clad promise, which nobody with a brain EVER assumes with a hypothetical release schedule) release date by one week. Cry me a river, please, then pop over to Rift or LotRO and check how often their updates come out. Or WoW. Especially WoW.

Then we’ve got a complaint that the new zone would be “frustrating to solo” even if you’re at the level cap. That would be the zone that has been described all along as being designed as tough, end-game group content, “frustrating to solo”. Well I never! I suspect that the groups attempting it would find it “frustrating to group” if it had been made easy to solo.

Next up, three paragraphs bemoaning that some of the content in Craglorn is mechanically identical to fighting Dark Anchors – four waves of enemies, culminating in an open world boss fight. Yup, functionally identical but still a good ruck with enemies galore. Did we really need three paragraphs to complain that they’re not different? Would it have been OK if it was three waves of enemies, or five? And if Larry Everett is going to categorise open world events that draw other players in to help you fight a swarm of enemies as “moments of boredom” than methinks he has a deeper problem, which is that he’s not enjoying playing ESO. In that case, it would be cruel and unusual punishment for Massively to force him to keep writing a column about it. Now, I’m British and we have no problem with cruel and unusual punishment over here, but Massively is run by Americans who have a sissy ass constitution that forbids that sort of thing :D

We then get three paragraphs grudgingly admitting that some of the content is OK, and possibly even fun, then it’s back to snark as he sums up in the last two paragraphs. Whew! I’d say it’s fair to look at a game warts and all, and ESO definitely has some warts, but that’s the kind of journalism that gives “fair and balanced” a bad name.

As a personal aside, I’m nowhere NEAR visiting Craglorn yet myself, but I appreciate the quality of life changes that the patch brought for all levels, and that don’t even get a mention in the Massively article.

I had an epiphany whilst playing ESO last night. Slow leveller that I am, I’m only just approaching level 30 now after over a month of playing, and I’m tooling around Shadowfen helping Argonians and beating off ravening crocodiles. Or possibly I’ve been helping crocodiles and beating off Argonians, they’re easy to get confused and both are great sources of leather :) I was level 28 at the time, with only one level 28 quest left in my journal and a handful of higher level quests. The main Shadowfen storyline quest’s next step was level 31, so following that I’d obviously outstripped my own ability to level. For a zone that’s supposed to be level 23 to 30, I was in danger of having to move on early, and I could maybe see the point of people who have complained that they ran out of quests and had to grind many of the levels in this game.

Then I looked at the achievement for Shadowfen quests. 29 completed out of 62. Following the main roads and expecting to be led to the action by the main storyline had uncovered less than half the content available to me. I needed to go looking in the places I hadn’t been led to. In fairly short order I found an escaped slave on the run with her mistress’ stolen jewels, aided the lunatic last of his race who fancied himself a king and myself his loyal subject, and helped to heal what was for all intents and purposes a lizard man with Asperger’s Syndrome. There are still over twenty quests out there I haven’t found yet – more than enough to get me past level 30 and on to the next area. I just have to go and find them.

A friend of mine who has played a lot more Skyrim than I ever did was singularly unsurprised by this. I think his exact quote was “It’s the Elder Scrolls, of course you’ve got to explore!” It’s something a bit different for a current generation MMO though (GW2 aside, which also expects you to go search the map for hearts and events). We’ve gone from original EverQuest and DAoC, where you had to talk to each NPC to even find out if they had any quests, to having golden punctuation over the heads of NPCs, to having things neatly ordered into clusters with vector quests that take you on to the next cluster once you’ve done with this one. The thoroughly modern WoW-clone MMO even now designs the landscape around its quest hubs to make for the most efficient flow, with every scrap of the landscape serving the purpose of hosting specific quests and none of it wasted on just being, well, landscape. Those of you with LotRO accounts might want to try touring Breeland and then Southern Mirkwood to see just how far we’ve come in terms of world being designed to serve quest flow.

No doubt having to go out there and search for quests instead of being neatly guided to it is a horrible imposition for some players – if nothing else, it impedes the rush to level cap. There are websites out there, and probably UI add-ons for use in-game, that will guide you to all of the content without having to do any looking for yourself, and I strongly suggest that the players who are having trouble finding enough content to level go use them. For myself, though, I’m happy to splash through the muck seeing what else I can find in my own time. It makes a nice change from being hustled from theme park ride to theme park ride as if by a stern and somewhat harried guide, forever tapping at his watch and reminding me of my next urgent appointment on the fixed golden path towards the fabled “endgame”.

One trend in MMOs these days that pisses me off isn’t the almost total lack of communication in pick up groups – it’s the brusque and impersonal nature of the communication. Characters are referred to by their role of their class, rather than by name.

“Tank pull now”.
“Healer heal FFS!”
“Hunter don’t ninja loot kk?”

I’m blaming this one on two of my favourite bugbears – the hyper-specialisation of WoW and it’s clones, and the locking down of customisation. These days in most games your role in the holy trinity is tightly defined, and all members of the same class are pretty much functionally identical. Why should I be surprised if people I meet in SWTOR call my Sith Lord “Marauder” instead of “Devaine” when he does exactly the same things as the last eight hundred dual-lightsaber-wielding acolytes of the Dark Side?

ESO is a bit different because the customisation hasn’t been locked down at all. The holy trinity roles are there, albeit not as specialised as in WoW (there are no tank abilities to insta-glue all enemies to you infallibly, for example, so everyone has to be able to handle the odd stray mob while the tank holds the most dangerous enemy). CLASS role, however, means nothing in a game where anyone can use any armour or weapon – including the healing staff – and in theory you could build a character using weapon, guild and world skills and never touch any of your class specific lines. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Templar, a Nightblade, a Sorcerer or a Dragonknight, any of these classes can tank, heal, DP{S or conceivably do two or all three of these roles in the same build.

Take my main character. Kian Tremayne is a Templar, a class that has a set of light-based abilities that can smite foes and heal friends. A classic character with those abilities in another game would be a paladin or a priest. Kian, however, is a dual sword wielder with a point blank AoE fire attack as well as melee AoE with his swords, a spell that drains power from nearby enemy corpses to heal him, and sometimes switches to a bow for ranged attacks and casts some quick off-heals. Oh, and he has been known to break out a Van Helsing style crossbow attack that lays waste to daedra (demons) and the undead.

Is a leather armour wearing, vampire hunting blademaster not what you thought of when you heard the class name “Templar”? It doesn’t matter what you expected, because I’m not a generic DPS, and I’m not any old Templar. I’m Kian Tremayne. And whatever Tamriel throws at me, I’ll meet it in my own style. If you call me… call me by my name.

For the ESO official launch, Zenimax put up an infographic full of silly little factoids such as the fact that there are apparently something like 5 x 10^58 possible character builds.

“Bah!” say the commenters over at Massively (who are, let’s face it the MMO gaming community’s Lowest Common Denominator… or would be if the Darkfall forums didn’t exist) “90% of those builds aren’t viable!”

Fair enough… I guess that only leaves 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 viable builds for me to try out then :D Just to be clear – that’s rather more than the USA’s national debt even if it was expressed in what Zimbabwe’s currency went for just before their government had to abandon actually having a currency of their own.

Anyway, I’m far more interested in the fact that 272 bathtubs of coffee being drunk during the production of the game. Given my experience in software development, that doesn’t sound like nearly enough coffee.


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