Sunday, October 30, 2011

Can't Stand Up For Falling Down

I totally did not come up with this post just so I could do this link.

Monks of Pantaloonia
The whole monk thing used to mystify me, I confess. Everywhere you went in fantasyland there they'd be, hopping and jumping and throwing shapes, hurling themselves on the ground like possums. They'd hold out their quivering palms like traffic policemen at a minor road accident and expect you to drop dead from fright not laughter.

And now they are pandas and somehow that's supposed to be a silly bridge too far? 

I thought fighting monks were pretty ridiculous when I first encountered them back in the 1970s. Martial arts were absolutely everywhere back then; on tv, in comic books, on the big screen, even in the charts. Even I had a set of nunchuks, although since the wood bits flew off the end every third revolution when the screw fitting unwound they made for more slapstick than violent assault.

Hey! I saw you blink!

I'd pretty much forgotten all about monks by the time I came to MMOs so it was a little disconcerting to step out of the main gates of Qeynos to find bare-chested men lying all over the ground. It was a popular class, for sure. I even had a monk of my own, aptly nicknamed the Drunk Monk because I created him on one of the Zek pvp servers and only ever played him when I'd been drinking.

Thousandth time's the charm
Kunark brought a whole new level of monk silliness. Seven foot tall lizards that spun on the balls of their clawed feet and swiped at you with their tails. Thousands of them, hissing, swiping, spinning and falling down. It took an EQ monk hundreds, thousands of attempts to raise his Feign Death skill and for months wherever you went in Norrath all you heard was the sound of Iksars falling down and getting up again, grunt, hiss, thud.

Zen garden with fox
I never took to the monkly life until I played my first Disciple in Vanguard and then suddenly it all clicked. A martial artist whose every punch and kick put heart and health back into his companions. The perfect combination of melee and healing I hadn't known I'd been looking for all along. It would scarcely have seemed silly at all, if he hadn't been a three-foot high fox, pirouetting on his hind legs.

That led indirectly to my playing a Bruiser in EQ2. I'd tried a gnome monk and a kerran bruiser before but neither stuck. It was only when I stepped out into The Commonlands as a three-foot high ratonga (that's a rat with attitude) that again it all clicked into place. Ninety levels fell like rain.

OMG! What happened! Were you mugged?
The Disciple remains my favorite ever class in any MMO and if anything could induce me to try WoW again it might easily be a melee-healing Panda. (Although the panda part could still be a sticking point. If it was a melee-healing squirrel it'd be a done deal). A character that can kick ass in close combat while keeping all his friends alive and fall flat on his back and giggle his whiskers off if everything goes south, well what's silly about that?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Home Is Where The Art Is : EQ2

Takes "chilling by the pool" to a whole new level

 Ardwulf said something today that set me thinking. He pondered whether EQ2 has more content than EVE and wondered whether EVE's player-driven approach gave players more to do than EQ2's "dev-designated tracks". Reflecting on this, it occurred to me that EQ2 has quietly sandboxed itself without anyone really noticing.

 Everquest 2 probably has more content than any other MMO I've ever played. Even if you've played EQ2, though, you might not have spotted it. Like the proverbial iceberg, much is invisible. Unlike the iceberg it's not underwater, although EQ2 does have plenty to see beneath the waves. No, it's behind the doors of all those houses and inns that you scarcely register as you pass by on your way to the bank or the broker or the bell. 

Indoors is outdoors
Housing has been in the game from the start. The picture at the top of my blog is taken from my gnome templar's inn room in Beta back in 2004. Back in those days a single room in an Inn sufficed for most people. Over time, that changed. Probably because housing fell into the purview of EQ2's greatest ever developer, Domino.

Under her stewardship much of the vast variety of existing furnishing was added to the ever-growing range of crafted recipes. So many lovingly designed items that had long been reserved for the sole pleasure of NPCs fell into the eager hands of player-decorators. Even some of the layout tools used by the devs themselves were handed over to players to use.

Freeport as a French boulevard
It didn't stop there. In the way of MMO players everywhere, those obsessive enthusiasts who never fail to find loopholes that devs never imagine, let alone intend, some anarchic genius worked out how to "break out"  of his house to the zone outside. Now you could not only enter your house through a door in the actual zone but with a little shimmy you could slip outside into your own quasi-legal instance and build over the whole of Maj'Dul or Greater Faydark.

Then Smokejumper got in on the act. His theory seemed to be "one house good, ten houses better". Or twenty.

Someone built this from scratch, In a house. Snark has no place here.

It's one thing when you can have just one house per character and that house might have at most five rooms. It's something else entirely when each character can have up to 20 houses chosen from from dozens of different models, from tiny dojos to entire islands or full-size castles. Decorating exploded.

The dentist will see you now
You can't really appreciate just how wide-ranging the possibilities of EQ2 housing are until you see what people have created. One thing the game lacked was an easy way to go on a tour of your server's stately homes. The recent addition of a housing leaderboard, despite some appalling conceptual and philosophical flaws, at least fixed that. You can now pop into a large number of listed properties on a whim from wherever you happen to be standing.

EQ2 already has by far the most extensive options for architectural creativity of any Western "theme park" MMO. Yet when the forthcoming expansion arrives there will be more. You won't just be able to design and decorate houses. You'll be able to build dungeons too. And adventure in them. It may not have the economic or espionage potential of EVE but EQ2 has an awful lot more to offer than on-rails questing and dance-card raids.

Monday, October 24, 2011

This Is What I Think Of When I Think Of Wow: WoW


I started replying to Brian over at Psychochild's Blog and my reply grew so long I thought I'd move it over here. He's mulling over the various reveals from Blizzcon and it got me thinking about my own non-relationship with Blizzard.

I find the whole Blizzard cult a bit strange. I'd been playing MMOs for several years before I ever even heard the name and when I did it was in the context of people in Everquest chat channels talking very disparagingly about Diablo, which seemed to be some game that thought it was an MMO but really wasn't.

Ski Lift Other Side
I picked up the impression that it was very much a second-rate entertainment compared to EQ or DAOC and largely forgot about it. I have only the vaguest memories of hearing about WoW before it was released. Again, I'd never even heard of Warcraft, let alone played it. Only a couple of people in my then quite extensive circle of EQ guildmates and channel buddies had any interest in it. It barely got mentioned. All the talk was about EQ2.

I did the EQ2 beta, played there from launch for six months and pretty much didn't notice WoW was even happening. It was only when EQ2 was in freefall and almost everyone I knew had given up on it that I began to hear that some of the people who'd left had gone to try this new MMO, World of Warcraft. I didn't, though. I went back to Everquest for another year.
Never leave a goblin in charge of your boat

After a while it became impossible not to be aware of WoW, even if you didn't play MMOs. I picked up a lot of background information on Blizzard and the games they'd made because now all of that was constantly referenced whenever people discussed MMOs. I began to understand the significance of their move into the genre in a way I hadn't done at the time. But I still had no desire to play any of their games.

It wasn't until 2009 that Mrs Bhagpuss and I finally downloaded the trial and stepped out into Azeroth. We'd run through just about every other MMO we could think of and were in a lull. WoW was pretty much the last AAA MMO we hadn't tried at that point and frankly we weren't expecting much.

So was a very pleasant surprise to discover that we liked WoW a lot. Great art direction, a big, interesting explorable world, amusing characters, smooth, enjoyable gameplay. We had fun for three or four months, and then we were done. Neither of us ever reached the level cap. Burning Crusade and WotLK content wasn't a patch on Vanilla content and the prospect of end-game was utterly unappealing. Still, a very nice MMO while it lasted.
Took me the best part of a week to get this shot!

I guess I still don't really know much about the Blizzard Universe even now. I'm quite surprised by the fuss these pandas have caused. Panda monks are hardly a new concept, after all. You don't even have to go outside the genre to find them; EQ2's had pandas for a couple of years now, although not as a playable race. I don't like pandas much. Not the real ones in their evolutionary dead-end nor imaginary ones in Chinese hats. They are pretty dull animals and the fictional versions are generally dull too, but I can't see why they'd send anyone into such a lather he'd delete all his characters and put the video on YouTube.

Why Pandas should be any more a jump the shark moment than space goats mystifies me. When I first played WoW the single weirdest part were the Tauren. Bipedal dairy cows as a playable race? Really? But I didn't grow up with the lore. I guess it's like boiling a frog except this time someone at Blizard turned the heat up just that bit too fast and some of the frogs jumped out of the pot.

Even now that I've played WoW and have a clearer idea how deeply enmeshed in PC gaming culture Blizzard's worlds are, I still don't have that vital emotional connection. I'm curious to see Titan, of course. Anyone interested in MMOs would have to be. But I'm more interested in the ripples in the pond after Blizzard tosses in a boulder than I am in the boulder itself.

And I won't be playing Diablo III.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Giving It The Old One Two: Rift

I'm still playing Rift most days but Mrs Bhagpuss has largely returned to her full-time job building houses in EQ2. I woke up one morning last week to find her still in front of the computer, having pulled an all-nighter doing a loft conversion on a Halas two-room. When I told her it was seven in the morning, the sun was coming up and I was off to work she said "Oh I thought it was only about three", as though staying up 'til "only" three in the morning decorating an imaginary house would in some way be recognized as normal behavior in an umpty-ump year-old mother of three grown children.

She still has an active Rift account however, and last weekend she managed to pull herself away from the workbench and forge for long enough to run through two Chronicles with me. The Chronicles are the new dungeons that arrived with patch 1.5. They are apparently tuned to be duoed by fresh level 50s or soloed by well-geared level 50s. Or something. I found that part a bit wooly.

There are three Chronicles. The first, "Meridian/Sanctum (delete as applicable): Ceremony of Attunement"  offers a solo instance of your capital city where your character is feted by the great and good of Telara for service to the nation.

Pig and cake. Breakfast of Champions.

It's an award ceremony so toe-curlingly embarrassing that the sudden appearance of arch-villain Kain and his Death plane cronies comes as a welcome relief.

Kain! I thought you'd never get here!
I'd already done that one on all my max level characters but I wanted to do the other two as a duo. While Mrs Bhagpuss was planing away over in Norrath I ran my Guardian through "Greenscale's Blight: The Fallen Prince" just to get a feel for the difficulty. I was using my usual Pyro/Ele soloing build, which has a mighty tank pet that I can chain heal literally until the heat-death of the universe. It also has massive single target and AE DPS.

Dressed mostly in crafted purple gear, the only thing that gave me any real trouble until the third named was my own sadly atrophied pulling skills, which had me running back from the altar quite a few times. If I'd had any self-healing I probably wouldn't have died, but that build has none.

The third boss was an extremely close fight. I actually killed her and one of her werewolf pals, but lack of self-healing defeated me when second werewolf was almost down. When I returned from my ghostwalk the whole encounter had respawned at full health so I called it a day for soloing. 

Mrs Bhagpuss then joined me over on the Defiant side. I was in my Pyro/Chloro build and she used her Necro/Warlock. Skeleton tanked. We did "Hammerknell: Runes of Corruption" first and it was fun. Those characters aren't quite as well geared as my Guardian and I thought the difficulty level was about right.

I can see right up your nose from here.

We cleared everything, killed the nameds, oohed and aahed at the dwarven workmanship, felt our teeth rattle in our heads whenever The Faceless Man spoke. The boss fights were straightforward with an absolute minimum of stupid dance moves, thank heaven. Loot was clearly aimed at fresh 50s. Nothing dropped that was an upgrade.

Triple somersault without a net!
The whole thing took about 45 minutes or so and we both felt ready for a second course so we moved on to Greenscale. With the exception of the same named that I stalled on solo, who was still a bit of a handful even with two of us, I didn't find Greenscale that much harder than Hammerknell. There was a bit of hopping about when the Prince used one of those annoying circle-on-the-ground things that I hate but nothing very taxing. Greenscale himself was a pushover.

The best thing about the Greenscale Chronicle was the interchanges between the various NPCs, some of which had me laughing out loud. The voice acting was excellent. Whoever did The Prince would be right at home in the cast of any 1970s British sitcom. It was well worth doing Greenscale just to hear him.

I do think these solo/duo instances are a good idea. They are hardly innovative, of course. EQ2 has had them for many years. I hope that Trion add a few at lower levels too, but I doubt they will since they seem to be determined to build a whole new game at 50 on top of the one they already have. Still, gift horse, mouth and all that. Looking forward to more, even if they are all stuffed up against the level cap.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Five Year Plan: Allods

Sadly not the wonderful band of the same name, who we put on gigs with a couple of times back in the day.

Imperial Square, Nezebgrad

Nezebgrad is a heck of a city. Huge. Imposing. Overwhelming. Grand. This is the way we thought the future would look before we ended up living there.
Allods has an idiosyncratic take on cyberpunk. Victoriana gives way to an elegant, sweetly ironic ostalgie. The Empire capital is a city built by Stalinist planners, lovingly rendered, lambently lit, peopled by irreverent, bureaucratic, meticulously dressed nutcases.

Moscow State University

Almost everyone you meet in Nezebgrad is at least a little unhinged. From Ilona, who thinks there's sewage in her kebab to Pavel who thinks his wife is turning into an elf, everyone has their own conspiracy theory. There's a secret policeman on every corner. Any beggar could be a spy. Even the bugs are bugged.

I think I ate there once.
Everyone has something for me to do and they all have forever to chat. I don't think I've ever seen such verbose quest-givers. Every quest window comes with a scroll bar. Sometimes you have to use it more than once. Is that a problem? Hardly! The quests are as lovingly crafted, as witty and knowing as the art direction. They're extremely well-translated into clear, idiomatic English yet they retain just enough of the flavor of the original syntax to give that slightly otherworldly feel that I love.

Elf porn. Just say No.
The actual combat is much easier and faster than I remember from beta, when Allods really harked back to the pace of Everquest or Dark Age Of Camelot. A couple of zaps from my lightning bolt and a charge from my trusty goblin and most things are down before they even reach me. My shaman is level 9 now and has yet to die. So why is it taking me an age to level up?

Well, apart from the lengthy conversations, the city is so spectacular I spend half my time gawping like a tourist, taking screenshot after screenshot, trying to get the best angle to capture the wonderful quality of of the light, the flare of the sun behind another statue, the majestic backdrop of mountain and cloud. And with no mount it takes a long, long time to cross these vast squares and boulevards as I run hither with my hyena ears and thither with my rat tails. 

The Adventurer's Journey: Painting pipes in the Sewage Plant

So far I'm having a great time in Allods. It's just as I remember it, only better. I've hardly stepped out of the city if you don't count the Sewage Plant and the Sewers. I think I have another three or four levels to go before I move out onto the plains and at the rate I'm going that could take another week. Or two. And that's fine. When the journey is this much fun, why hurry?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Stone Me! : Rift

Phase Two of Rift's Ashes of History world event popped up unexpectedly last night. Unexpected by me, anyway. I've been playing a mix of Allods, Rift and EQ2 this week and I didn't log into Rift yesterday until quite late in the evening. Pretty much the first thing I noticed was that one of my Ashes quests had auto-completed. It's a handy Trion trick, where any obsolete World Event quests that remain unfinished in your journal are neatly finished off for you when the next phase begins.

Some of the Phase One quests are still active and several new ones have been added. The trend I commented on earlier continues and my Guardians had to travel significantly further, through significantly more dangerous territory to complete the same quest as my Defiants. Never mind. Purity is forged in the fire of sacrifice and all that jazz.

Travel stones? Nah, mate. Never 'eard of 'em.
The new quests are intriguing. The underlying plot of the Ashes event is all about the re-opening of the Travel Stones, a network of teleportation devices that existed before the Shattering Cataclysm Civil War. Or something. I never really understood Rift's lore. I don't recall the Porticulum guys mentioning any "Travel Stones" either, come to think of it. They all seemed to be pretty pleased with themselves for setting up their own system. You'd have thought they might have mentioned it was just a cover version.
My brother is much tastier than I am...hang on, that's goats.
Either way, these "Travel Stones" are coming back courtesy of the Golden Maw and The Wanton, who appear to be using the system as some kind of inter-dimensional courier service. This I found out by sidling up to the Travel Stone dressed as a deer, a reckless disguise given that the two creatures I was eavesdropping on appeared to be an ogre and a kobold. Lucky I didn't end up spit-roasted.

Then it was off to try the Travel Stones out for myself. Not to go anywhere, not yet at least. That comes after the event ends, when we get to use the Travel Stones to visit Ember Isle, the upcoming high-level zone . For now we just have to prod the stone and see what jumps out.

You can't kill me. I got my claws up!
First time I did it I got a giant crab that wasn't best pleased. What a giant crab was doing using the arcane tramlines I never found out because dead crabs don't go much for conversation and it was him or me. The next two times a startled Kelari appeared, reminding me a little of the White Rabbit.

The fourth time was far and away the most spectacular It actually made me go "Whoooaah" out loud as my eyebrows crisped.

I see why they put these stones out of town now

 Back in town, the new repeatable quest involved combining a variety of colored stones to make a resonating inscribed travel stone. Catchy name. First time I did this I spent ages fiddling about with all kinds of color combinations on the assumption that there was some meaning to be construed. Turns out it's just the bottom one on the list, then the top one. I do like simplicity.
Overall, another good portion of lore with some fun special effects. I'm enjoying this event a lot.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Glorious Future Awaits: Allods

Revolutionary Dawn (please to ignore smokestack)

I re-installed two MMOs this weekend. One was Fallen Earth, because it's gone Free to Play and I always liked it. The other was Allods.

I played Allods in beta, like a lot of other people. I was planning on playing it when it went live, but somehow I never did. It wasn't really because of the infamous cash-shop debacle, although that didn't help. It was mostly that the break between beta and Live, which I remember as being a few weeks, just derailed my attention. When the official Allods launch arrived I was playing something else and I just never really got back to it. (That, by the way, shows the importance for a F2P game in allowing open beta characters to carry over to Live. Most F2Ps do that. Allods didn't. It was a mistake).

Those tabs didn't used to be there!
So, why did I decide to have another bash at Allods after all this time? Well, because of this blog. (And no, I don't mean because the full name of Allods ought to be Allods:Inventory Full either, although lack of bag space is probably the defining trope of the game).

When I got this blog up and running at last I was imagining it would mostly be about writing. I've been writing since I was about seven years old. It's pretty much what I do. Only, just like when I had a website many years ago, back in the homepage day, it turns out that I like fiddling with images as much as I like writing. Maybe more.

I've been trawling through my old screenshots as I prepare these posts. I have a lot of them. I was looking for something else when I ran across my Allods beta screenshots. WoW. Erm, no, wait, that's not what I meant... WOW! Allods takes an absolutely stunning screenshot.

Seasonally Appropriate Screenshot

Looking through them a couple of thoughts popped to mind. I'd just done that post mentioning the good/bad bad/good sides in Rift and it occurred to me that Allods has a similar moral set-up. It also occurred to me that it has almost exactly the same Nature/Religion vs Science/Steampunk dichotomy. And it occurred to me that I'd only really experienced one of those sides.

Sweetness and light...
Just as in Rift I began by playing the Nature/Religion faction, so I did in Allods. Almost all my time in Beta was spent as a Gibberling on the League side. Well, three Gibberlings. And a Squirrel. I'd had a brief look at the Empire capital but about all I remembered was the excellent pastiche Constructivist design.

Until their backs are turned
Anyway, after a fair-to-middling nightmare of a battle with the awful Allods patcher, resolved only by manually downloading the patch files and a new type of unzipper to unpack them, and having to remake a new account from scratch since my old one apparently has time-expired, (you have to wonder if gPotato actually want anyone to play this game) eventually I re-entered Allods as an Orc Shaman of The Empire.

Thus far I am extremely impressed. Details will follow.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

He’s good-bad, but he’s not evil : Rift

Is that it?

Ah, the Shangri-Las. My second favorite all-female band. Clearly the inspiration for Rift's odd choice of two sides, neither of which is really good and neither of which is really evil.

The Guardians are religious zealots. The Defiants are single-minded technocrats. I wouldn't trust either of them to run an orphanage. One thing I have noticed, though, is that Defiants get a distinctly easier time of things when it comes to events.

Events, dear boy, events. Harold MacMillan would have loved Telara. How fine to live in a world where events don't pop up unexpectedly to spoil your day. How much neater to know the day and hour ahead of time. Sweeter still to know that your event is easier than the other guy's.

Meridian is much easier to navigate than Sanctum. Well, it is outdoors, at least, and that's where most events take place. There's a big courtyard, a wall and a yard of scrubby grass.

More potash please

Sanctum, on the other hand, is a wheel circled by a winding path inside a retaining wall. A lot of sickly, stunted trees and rickety buildings cramp the space. Visibility is poor.

I have Guardian and Defiant characters. I even have one Guardian character who only does city events. She's never done anything else since the tutorial and she's gotten to level thirteen. I get to see all events from both sides. Each team gets the same quests for each event but I can always do the Defiant version faster than the Guardian. Sometimes it barely takes half the time.

My Guardian Hat
With my Guardian hat on I'm okay with that. We religious types are nothing if not long-suffering. The current event, however, goes beyond a little extra running between spawns. As I described before the quest in Meridian takes you just a few yards outside the gate and someone has even thoughtfully marked the path with lanterns. It took me about 10 seconds to find it.

The Guardian version is on the coast below the high bridge leading into Sanctum. I could see that on the map but I had no idea how to get there. As far as I knew, there was no way down there other than to jump off the bridge. I ran around a bit looking for another way down but I couldn't see one. So I jumped off the bridge.

Once I dragged myself, wet and shivering, out of the sea it was simple enough to complete the quest, but then I had to get back up. I was very surprised to find a path. With a neat wooden fence on the seaward side. Just to stop me falling in. Bit late for that.

Donkey rides sixpence!

Has this path always been there? I can't recall seeing it before and I spent an inordinate amount of time in Silverwood and Sanctum earlier in the year. Was it added for this event, like the lanterns in Freemarch or is it yet another example of the incredible depth of detail in the lands of Telara, where I really do still see something new every day?

Treant. It's such a tinny word.
I followed the path up. Eventually it wound back to the main road leading into Sanctum, but only after I'd dodged an aggressive level 14 treant taking a constitutional up and down the track.

Now I'm not claiming this was difficult. Compared to a trip from Ak'Anon to the Windmills or from Surefall Glade to Qeynos it was a walk in the park. But it did ask a lot more of me, and my character, than the Defiant version.

I like it. A lumpy playing field is good. Might be nice once in a while to let some moles lump up Meridian's scabby grass, though. Don't want the Guardians to have all the fun.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ashes in the Wind : Rift

 No, much though I enjoy a bit of Joan, that's really not what I meant!

Flares are back!
So, the Ashes of History event started, finally. On the face of it, it looks remarkably like the last one. And the one before that, come to think of it. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Find something that works, you may as well run with it, I say.

I'd been doing Night of the Dead stuff in EQ2 for most of the evening so it was late when I logged into Rift. Only took me a few seconds to find out where the event began. Look!  Over there! A bunch of strangers standing around the same quarter of Meridian's yard where the last lot decamped a couple of weeks back. In the exact same spots I do believe. I think they may even have rented the same tents.

Sun comes up, out go the lights. Or not.
The first quest sent me looking for a Travel Stone. It wasn't hard to find. In fact it was straight out of Meridian's main gate and up a path to the right. If that wasn't plain enough, someone had thoughtfully planted a row of torches. You couldn't miss it, frankly. Nor the huge, blue crystal at the end of it.

Mrs Bhagpuss had gone to sleep so I was playing with headphones on for once. I'd also had most of a bottle of Chilean Merlot by then so it's just possible I may have been in a particularly receptive frame of mind. Whatever, when I clicked on the crystal suddenly I was pulled sharply, unexpectedly into the world before me. By the song of a long-dead dwarven bard.  

Erm, that didn't come out of your spider by any chance?
Sound gets a raw deal in MMOs.Many people turn it off altogether or turn it down and play music instead. I often have the radio on while I play and pay more attention to that than the sounds of the world I'm supposed to be inhabiting. I don't usually play with headphones on, but whenever I do I remember just how important a part sound can play in creating that elusive, desired sense of immersion. This, however, went far beyond that.

Imagine Sound Clip Here
The voice was unearthly. Softly sibilant, airy and distant, it wasn't even the  tone that chilled. It was the phrasing. Phrasing is the key to song as timing is to comedy. Get the phrasing right and everything follows. Whoever voiced this had the phrasing perfectly wrong. No human would emphasize those syllables, take those pauses. It was a voice from another world, another time. Magical. Appropriately, for once.

I was impressed. And I went on being impressed with the following quest, which also used sound excellently and atmospherically. It all bodes very well for the rest of the event. Just because you re-use the frame doesn't mean you have to paint the same picture.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Transferrable Skills: Marv Wolfman on Planetside 2

Marv Wolfman seems to have been around forever. I interviewed him over a quarter of a century ago. I vaguely recall asking him a lot of overly-detailed questions about the Teen Titans, which he answered patiently and with good humor, even when I gave him a hard time over the death of Terra. I think he was hearing a lot of that at the time...

He had a reputation as a steady, professional comics writer. A very safe pair of hands. I lost track of his career trajectory sometime in the early 90s, when I stopped buying comics for the final time. Well, it's been final so far...

Yes my mentor is Ambush Bug. What exactly are you trying to imply?
If I'd thought about him at all since then, which I haven't, I'd have guessed he would have left comics by now, possibly retired. I certainly wouldn't have expected him to turn up working  on MMOs, much less for SoE, but there does seem to be a bit of  genre bleed going on, what with Todd McFarlane over at 38 Studios and Michael Bendis on the Marvel  MMO so maybe I shouldn't be surprised. 

I knew he'd done something on DCUO but I was never entirely sure what it was. I played DCUO quite a lot and still do on occasion and it certainly has a very 70s-80s take on the DC Universe, which I appreciate. It does feel a little like being inside a Marv Wolfman title from that era, although perhaps a Gerry Conway fill-in would be nearer the mark. Maybe the DC universe hasn't changed all that much. I don't know. As I said, I'm not keeping up like I used to.

Bats is out of town, okay? You got me. Stop laughing at the back!

 Marv must have done a pretty good job doing whatever it was that he did, though, because he's back at SoE again, working on the backstory for Planetside II. Is that a plum job? I wouldn't have thought so. Not for a writer, anyway. Hard to see how much backstory a 24/7 running firefight needs. I don't think there's all that much congruity between comics and MMOs anyway. Not in the writing department. But then, a good pro can turn his hand to anything.

Oddly, given that SoE is my preferred MMO development house, I never played Planetside. I often meant to but somehow I just never got round to it. I mean to rectify that with Planetside II. I'd be doing that anyway, but knowing Marv's on board gives me just that little bit more confidence. I don't expect to notice what he's done, but his influence will be there, solid and stable. He's such a pro, after all.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Explorer Archetype

Stupid noobs can't even spell noobs

Mrs Bhagpuss and I are just back from yet another trip to Spain. Spain and France, in fact, since we flew to Bordeaux and drove down into Northern Spain through Aquitaine, the flattest place I have ever seen.

We did a lot of driving, as we always do. Well, I did a lot of driving and Mrs Bhagpuss did a lot of looking out the window. Sometimes when we go traveling we don't talk about gaming at all, but this time it came up quite a lot. After more than a decade of MMOs it seems we're still both pretty keen on them, still ready for more.

That's gnomish technology or I'm a dutchman
We observed once again how blurred the line is between what we do in MMOs and "real" life. When we go away we find it very hard to go to one place and stay there. We're always moving on, looking to see what's over the next hill, what the next town has to show us. It's quite astonishing how radically landscape and environment can change in just a few miles, a few minutes. Almost as though you crossed a zone line.

Three hour quest to find this place half an hour from where we started
Then there are the repeatable quests. We don't kill ten goats (although when you're stuck behind a herd of them meandering along the road for half an hour it's a quest you might willingly accept) but since we rarely book any accommodation in advance every day ends in a quest to find somewhere to stay. Occasionally that turns into an epic.

We see plenty of evidence of non-human races, too.
There's trolls in them thar hills
Parts of Aquitaine were clearly settled by halflings although the endless forests suggest the continuing, elusive presence of elves.

Who might live in a castle like this?
And then there are the castles. So many castles.

I subscribe strongly to the philosophy that we only have one life and all of it is real. I try not to differentiate qualitatively between virtual and physical experiences. In the end, they all happen inside my head. If I had the time and the resources to travel all the time, I'd travel all the time. Wait a moment...that's what I do!

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