Monday, May 28, 2012

Something For The Weekend, Sir? : EQ2

It was a double XP weekend in EQ2. Again. You can pretty much count on one every American public holiday as well as whenever some EQ2 anniversary rolls around. Then they toss in a few more, just for luck.

This one should have passed largely unnoticed. ArenaNet said there'd be a Guild Wars 2 beta weekend at least once a month until launch and we'd not had one in May, so since this was the last weekend of the month... we didn't get one.

Stress tends to show around the eyes
We did have that Stress Test a while back and apparently it came back positive because ArenaNet decided to buy a load more hardware. Which wasn't up and running in time to open the doors again this time round. Since I saw virtually no lag, latency, connection or disconnection problems or cats lying down in the street with dogs during either the BWE or Stress Test it all seems a bit notional to me, but I'll take their word for it. It's not like I have a choice. They have the metrics. Along with my money.

Funcom broke with tradition by publishing a schedule of The Secret World's beta weekends. All two of them. They irritated me no end earlier in the week by moving the launch date to "a more positive launch window which will benefit the launch of the game", thereby ensuring that I'll miss all but one day of the Headstart and the whole of the first week. That apart, it's good to have the dates nailed down.

Anyway remind me again, when did MMOs catch weekenditis? Is it a weekend hobby now like park football or washing the car? What happened to that addiction we were all supposed to have, when our mouse fingers would twitch uncontrollably if we missed a single session and playing anything less than 40 hours a week qualified you as casual?

Mabel! Hide the Gorgonzola! The Horde's here!
I wonder if we've just traded one bad habit for another. Stay MMO-clean all week then binge at the weekend. Loading so much onto a couple of days doesn't always feel natural or comfortable. When a beta weekend lurches into sight, often without much warning, there's an overwhelming urge to abandon plans and leap aboard as it passes, like a nun jumping a paternoster.

I know, I know. First world problem. And I like these weekends, really I do. Mrs Bhagpuss and I spent most of this one tearing around Norrath like the Mongol Horde, if Mongols were ratongas and rode hoverdiscs (and who's to say they weren't and they didn't?). 

Many veteran rewards were claimed and experience potions drunk. Many, many AAs were clocked up. Three more level 90 characters hit the magic 280AA mark that permits continued leveling for the whole two more levels to the new cap. My level 63 Necromancer is now just four short of the completely arbitrary target of 200 AAs that I told her she had to reach before she can level again.

It's such a throwback, though. It's like watching television not just before time-shifting but before the VCR. Use it or lose it.  Still, I quite like the discipline, truth be told.

As for how I square a desire for MMO game designers to slow the leveling process down with an obsessive lust to squeeze every last bonus xp point out of the Double XP Weekend sponge, I refer you to my lifelong motto, originally formulated by Ralph Waldo Emerson and handed down to me by Lou Reed (not personally you understand).

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds".

Sunday, May 27, 2012

We're Doomed!

Oh be quiet, Frazer.

So, farewell then 38Studios. One of the bigger, more mysterious MMO projects of recent years crashed and burned in spectacular fashion this week, sending flaming shards of shrapnel across the blogosphere that ignited comment brushfires wherever they landed. I could link to them all but then I wouldn't have room for anything else. If you just can't get enough bad news Spinks has more links and Wolfshead has perhaps the best summary I've seen.

Rolled in with most reports of Curt Schilling's hubris were hand-wringings over the mass redundancies (lay-offs, lettings-go, call it what you will) at SW:ToR. Tobold stood pretty much alone with his immodest proposal that maybe the best way not to lose your game developer job is to be better at making games.

And let's not forget the closing of the doors at Dominus. (Although I note with curiosity that their web page is still up. Even the Beta Application button still works).

Is this a watershed for MMOs? Are we at the crossroads? Is it time to wake up and smell the cliches? Some industry analysts think so. So does tractor-lovin' Scott Jennings.

MMOs? So last decade, darling. Want more evidence? Remember those Kickstarter projects I mentioned a while back? Let's take a moment to catch up on how they're doing.


393 Backers
$23,254 pledged of $250,000 goal

Dark Solstice

9 Backers
$866 pledged of $50,000 goal



Panzer Pets

224 Backers
$7,938 pledged of $85,000 goal 
Funding for this project was canceled by the project creator 3 days ago. 

That's going well, then.

Is this the end of the road for MMOs? A good run but now it's done? Will we all be watching Eurovision instead of kicking dragon butt this time next year? (Last night I did both simultaneously for the first time ever but I digress...).

I doubt it. Projects fail, MMOs don't get made or get made and flop all the time. Ultima Worlds Online, anyone? Asheron's Call 2? Dragon Empires?

There's an issue of scale in the latest debacles, it's true. When the dollars down the drain are measured not just in millions but tens or even hundreds of millions then it does seem alarming, leading to the question many are beginning to ask: "does it really take that much money to make an MMO?" If the relative commercial disappointment of TOR and the complete collapse of 38Studios leads to better-focused, better-managed, leaner MMO development then that's not such a bad legacy.

Let's end on a brighter note. Pathfinder's Kickstarter project is already funded. Double-funded, no less. It's "only" a tech demo, but that's a good thing. Baby steps, the way to go.

Still motoring along in development, as far as we know, are Wildstar, Otherlands, EQNext, Planetside2, ArchAge, City of Steam and Pirates101, just to name the ones I'm following. The Secret World, now looking like a solid bet, launches in June July (curse you, Funcom and your inconvenient new launch date!).

The new elephant in pajamas, Guild Wars 2, will be out "when it's ready". It won't cure cancer, stop global warming or hold back the coming apocalypse but it will be a big, successful, profitable MMO.

Life will go on and so will MMOs. It may be a bumpy ride but just sit back and enjoy it. I plan to.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Scattershot: The Secret World

A few random observations on The Secret World that I felt moved to jot down during the recent beta weekend. Bullet points seem oddly appropriate...
  • That Templar intro sequence sets a great mood. The guy that did the arm movements probably needs to stop watching those old Thunderbirds videos, though.
  • Having to choose three names for your character but only getting to use one in-game is a masterstroke. Will the other two names ever be mentioned again? Part of me hopes they stay My Secret. Part of me hopes they Mean Something.
  • Jumping is very convincing. There's a real feeling of momentum and direction. It's not like I can levitate. Although now I ate that bee...
  • The fade from grey to color on the loading screens between zones is a beautiful touch.
Susie's - Good Lobster, Great Jukebox
  • Music sounds great coming out of radios and jukeboxes. It even has its own volume setting in the Options. I hope we get to find out what songs are playing.
  • The ultra-small quest mission allowance is going to take some getting used to, but Funcom might just be on to something. At first I was swearing at the screen when I had to keep putting Missions on hold but I have to admit it helped me focus and I need all the help I can get with that.
Go on Mavis! Move about a bit!
  • Making a lot of missions repeatable on a cooldown needs to be done with care. It's fine for "kill more zombies" but not for natural one-time story arcs and I wasn't sure that line was always respected.
  • NPCs don't move. Oh, they wave their arms and scratch their heads and shuffle and do all the other "I'm not a statue" things that NPCs always do in MMOs, but I never saw one step a pace away from the spot he started on. Once I noticed this I couldn't stop noticing it. Very distracting. It would feel more real if they walked from one room to another once in a while, like NPCs do in every other MMO ever made.
  • Someone likes Keanu Reeves. A lot.
Whoa, Dude! I totally smoked that zombie!
  • The glaring red outline around any interactable object is a clunky device. There must be a more immersive way of showing us where we're supposed to be clicking.
  • I like the ladders but the climbing mechanic could use an iteration or three.
  •  Collects! Better the less-obtrusive shinies or sparklies of EQ2 or Rift than these honking great DCUO-style tablets but I'll take what I can get. Collects are an MMO must-have.
  • Delivering Lore via Collects is a clever twist but making the Lore worth reading, that's a real break with tradition, unless you're playing Echo Bazaar. That The Secret World could give even Echo Bazaar a run for its money in the Lore stakes is high praise indeed.
That's all I got. Until next time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Not So Secret Now : The Secret World

No Levels? Really?

What, you mean there's no ding? No xp? No linear progression?

That's certainly what they'd like you to think but like most things it all comes down to semantics in the end. There's a whopping great bar right across bottom of the screen. Do Missions or kill stuff and the line fills out from left to right. When it gets yay far there's a satisfying sound effect and a flash of light. That's your Skill Point, that is. Or your Action point. One or the other.

Funcom have very cleverly managed to hand you cake, invited you to eat it then given you more cake so you still have cake left. If you hate levels, consider yourself served, there are no levels! If you love levels, Happy Face! Gaining skill points looks, sounds and feels exactly like leveling!

That's One Hell Of A Wheel

Isn't it just? That's the famous Wheel of fortune cheese Skill. Five hundred, no less. Count them. No don't, we'll be here all day.

I'd heard about this thing and watched someone trying to explain it in a video which sent me to sleep but once I got my mouse pointer on it everything was fine. It's very well-designed. It only takes a glance to see how it works. It's not overwhelming or scary at all.

It is, however, somewhat disappointing. I hadn't realized that every single one of the five hundred skills relates to using your weapon. It's a 500 weapon skill wheel, not a 500 skill wheel. I confess that up until now I have been paying only the loosest attention to The Secret World but even I had noticed the homage, shall we say, to RPGs like Call of Cthulhu and Paranoia. I was expecting the selection of skills to include things like Egyptology, Advanced Dewey Decimal and freakin' Invisibility.(Someone's going to point out now that Invisibility is somewhere in the Outer Elemental Wheel, no doubt).

Guns Guns Guns

Posterize This!
So, The Secret World is all about the weapons. This seems to be the new MMO black. They all laughed at FFXIV but now everyone's doing it.

The Secret World has no classes. Allegedly. Like it has no levels. Instead you get two hotbars with seven slots each. One has your Actives - attacks and heals. The other has your Passives - buffs. Each weapon type has its own sector going outwards on the wheel. Spend your points, collect the set.

You can use two weapons at a time and some skills affect both weapons. It's ferociously complex but to make it more manageable you can bind combos and swap them out of combat. Funcom even provide pre-chosen "Decks" if you can't be bothered choosing. In the end, call it what you like, Decks, Loadouts, Sets, Builds, you end up with a bunch of abilities that your character can use. Want to bet we end up with a bunch of accepted best builds that get given names that we all end up using when we talk about them? Class names, in fact.

I put nearly all my points into Shotgun. In fact I put them all into the Offensive skills for Shotgun because healing people by pumping buckshot into them just seems weird.The option is there, though.

Take That, Sirrah!

I was taken aback by how combat-focused The Secret World seemed to be. Maybe it was just Kingsmouth. The entire town has been overrun by the living dead and sea monsters, after all. Once I'd poked my nose into every last part of London (or rather, the one small district of London on offer) I took up my shotgun and walked out into the fog. (Or The Fog. Is that public domain already? Just askin').

Ugly UI, Ugly Monster.
I think I did most of the directed content in Kingsmouth. I also did a lot of undirected content. Endless ammo plus infinite zombies = fun. Solo difficulty seemed just about right. I had to pay a certain amount of attention and I employed some kiting techniques I thought I'd forgotten but I never ran into anything that positively demanded I find a friend. I've read that TSW is a more group-centered MMO than we've seen for a while but not at this level it isn't.

The combat itself I found a bit less satisfying than in Guild Wars 2, which I mention because of the superficial similarities - small number of attacks based off weapon type, mobs doing stuff you're  meant to spot and counter etc. Whereas in the GW2 beta so far I've managed 21 levels without once becoming bored of having only five attacks, in The Secret World I was getting a bit tired of the Shotgun by the end.

I think the difference is that in GW2 you're given quite a variety of attacks right from the start whereas in TSW the more interesting stuff is further out on The Wheel. I missed being able to blast enemies up in the air or thirty feet backwards like I can in GW2 (although come to think of it, how am I doing that with a bow and arrow?). I heard other complaints about this but since only the very inner ring of The Wheel was unlocked for beta I think it's far too early to call this a problem.

Anyway, to say I was less satisfied with TSW combat than GW2 combat is misleading. I'm certainly not saying it was bad. I liked TSW combat just fine. It's just that GW2's is even better.

Where Are All The Guys With ?? Over Their Heads?

The Crows Know
Here we go again. There aren't any. TSW doesn't do that kind of thing. Except, well, yes it does. Only instead of above the head its somewhere off to the side. And instead of a question mark it's a square box. Paradigm shift, I know.

It's not revolutionary but it is evolutionary. Mrs Bhagpuss and I both agreed The Secret World's way of handing out quests (oh alright, Missions) knocked spots off the way it's done in most MMOs. I didn't see any Mission presented or offered in a way I haven't seen done elsewhere before, but the appropriateness and subtlety with which the Missions are embedded into the world and above all the sheer consistency with which it's done offer a model that other MMOs really should follow.

Hello? Hello!?
I don't know why it should be so much more satisfying to receive a Mission from a mobile phone clutched in the rigored hand of a dead cleaning lady than it would be to receive the same quest from a guy standing there with an interrogative point for a hat. It just is.

As for the Missions themselves, I heard much oohing and aahing in General chat about the great puzzles and how good it was to have to think while questing. I didn't find I had to do much more of that than usual, but then I always read all the quest text first time round. You'll definitely want to do that here and for two very good reasons.

Firstly the Mission text and NPC mission dialogs, like all the writing in every part of the game, is sharp. If you like reading you won't want to skip it. By MMO standards I would re-iterate that it's exceptionally well-written. Don't go expecting Dostoevsky but it's on a par with solid genre fiction.

Secondly, there is information in the Mission text and dialog that you will need to know if you don't plan on running around aimlessly and getting annoyed. The good thing is, if you didn't listen, or if your mind wandered onto what you might have for tea just as the Important Code Number was mentioned, you can just go back and run through it again. Not that I had to do that. Much.

And There We Have It

I have a few more odds and ends to mention which I'll throw into a bullet point post if I get the time but that pretty much covers the basics. The Secret World, or as much of it as we were allowed to see, is a solid, playable, entertaining MMO with a very interesting and well-realised setting, great art direction, good voice acting and excellent writing. More traditional and less mold-breaking than Funcom might like you to believe, but still a couple of steps ahead of the usual suspects.

I'm looking forward to playing it and to blogging about it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Backing Up Your Blog: NBI

The Newbie Blogger Initiative has blown up into something a lot bigger than I expected. Probably than most of us expected. Apart from Syp, obviously. I haven't had time to round up all the new NBI blogs but Ardwulf has and thanks to his handy list I've now added all the new ones to my NBI blogroll.

Lots of more experienced bloggers have given great advice this month, while I've not been able to offer much more than encouragement. I did think of one useful thing that I've not seen anyone else mention, though.

Backing up your blog.

I use Blogger, which you'd imagine would be fairly robust. One day a few months after I started blogging I came home from work one evening, went to open my blog and it wasn't there. Google had "removed" it for "unauthorised activity". It was a nasty shock, as you might imagine.

I never did find out what the "unauthorized activity" was. I contacted Google and had to jump through various hoops to get my blog back including verification by mobile phone, which was awkward since I don't have a mobile phone. In the end my blog was restored in a few hours, but it left me concerned about what I could have lost.

The primary reason I write Inventory Full is to keep a diary of my MMO life for my own interest. I re-read my posts quite often and anticipate doing so for many years to come. I decided I no longer trusted Google to look after my data and determined to look after it myself.

Which brings me to HTTrack. It's a free website copier and offline website browser. It backs your website up onto your hard drive including all the pictures, links and so on. You can then browse your own blog (or any website you've backed up) without even needing an internet connection.

I know nothing about the people who make HTTrack, so consider using it at your own risk. There are other backup utilities you might prefer, they're easy enough to find with a quick google. I looked at a few and this was the one I chose. I've been using it for almost six months without any problems. It's simple to install and use and it does just what it's supposed to do.

I feel a lot happier with my data backed up on hard drive and burned to DVD. Chances are nothing will go wrong with the original copy over on Google's servers, but why take the risk when you don't have to? If you'd miss your own blog if it disappeared, back it up.

Oops, I Did It Again: TSW

So it seems we'll be buying The Secret World, which comes as something of a surprise to me. I'd commented on a couple of blogs that I had no plans to get it at launch. I wasn't even going to bother with the beta. I thought I'd wait for the inevitable F2P conversion. Then on Saturday afternoon I happened to mention it to Mrs Bhagpuss.

"I want to play that", she said.

Well, there was a beta weekend going on so why wait? I briefly considered pre-ordering just to get a beta key, but a quick google turned up some German gaming sites with keys left. The 13GB download took a lot longer but in the end we had the thing up and running on both machines and we managed to get about sixteen hours in over Saturday night and Sunday.

There's a lot to talk about. I took notes.


We're buying it. Will that do? Oh, alright then...

Based on my experiences in the three zones available in beta - London, Kingsmouth and the Argartha - The Secret World is a world that begs to be explored. The setting is deeply atmospheric - immersive, intriguing and mysterious. Also fresh. Art direction and writing are as good as I have ever seen in an MMO. The UI is idiosyncratic and a tad shambolic but it works well enough. Animations are average at best. Visual effects are no better. Combat involves hotbars and tab targeting. Gameplay revolves around Missions. It's a traditional MMO.

Only it isn't. It's an MMO set slightly askew and it's the off-kilter lurch that works so well. Let's break it down.

Look and Feel

There were some arguments in general chat over the "graphics" of The Secret World. Some said the game looked amazing, others questioned their sanity and asked whether they'd actually seen a game made in the last five years. Both views have merit. Compared to the ultra-slick surface sheen of MMOs like Tera or even Rift or the hyper-designed painterly aesthetic of GW2, The Secret World looks plain. There's a distinct lack of sparkle.

  Hopper goes Holborn

What TSW does have is art direction of the highest quality. The detailing is superb. Funcom are making a big deal out of the real world setting and their art team have brought to life a marvelous, magical heightened version of reality that perfectly suits the content. It's our world seen out of the corner of your eye.

I spent a long time poking into every corner, playing with camera angles, zooming in, trying to absorb every particle of information. So much going on all over. So much to think about. Will most of it amount to anything? I doubt it. It's texture and the success of the effect is in the accretion.

This is a game that was always going to live or die by how well it put its case: "Everything is true". Here, you feel, it just might be.


I'm not big on story in MMOs. I'm far more interested in my own characters and their stories than I'm ever likely to be in any tale a developer wants to tell me. This is different.

Watch yer car fer a dollar, Mister.
The writing in The Secret World isn't original, not in the very slightest degree. Influences float on the surface for everyone to see and I don't just mean the street names. It's not what, though, it's where. Writing as sharp and salty as this may be nothing new in other media but it is in an MMO.

My overriding impression throughout my time in London was "This is like being inside a Grant Morrison comic". Specifically, it's like being inside The Doom Patrol. The subject matter, the way the characters speak, the vibe. In Kingsmouth it felt more like being inside Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead. The spirit of modern comics writing is very strong in TSW. It makes a wonderfully refreshing change from the dead hand of mass market fantasy that chokes the life out of most MMOs.


If The Secret World reads like a comic it sounds like an indie movie. NPCs talk a lot. To you, to each other, to themselves. I am not at all a fan of voiceovers in MMOs so you'd think this wouldn't be a selling point. Once again, this is different.

Say what Bro?
The voice acting is good to very good. The range of accents used goes well beyond the usual set of stereotypes.
All the way to a whole new set of stereotypes. When did you last hear a Scouser in an MMO? Or a Welshman? The lines are often pretty good and the delivery drips with irony, sarcasm, subtext. Most conversations left me thinking there were things going on that I wasn't being told.

The highest praise I can give to the dialogs and cut scenes is that far from wanting to skip past them I spent much time actively hunting down all the NPCs with something to say and making sure I heard every word.

Coming next: UI, Skills, Combat, Missions

Saturday, May 19, 2012

So Sue Me! Another GW2 Post.

Yes, I know what I said. Didn't know there was going to be a stress test then, did I?

The Stress

I was able to log in at the appointed second. Literally. I had the radio on and as the last pip of the GMT time signal for 7pm sounded the game began to load. That's some impressive precision.

Yak's Bend is supposedly one of the busiest of the U.S. servers. I was playing there from the U.K. during an event meant to test the infrastructure. We'd been warned to expect connection issues and lag. In five and a half hours I had one single lag spike that lasted maybe five seconds. I'd say they passed.

Leveling Speed

I still think it's fast, compared at least to the old-school pace I can't shake as some kind of subconscious benchmark, but I'm no longer convinced it's too fast.

Look at me! I'm flying!
I was a shade under level 19 when I logged in at 7pm. When I logged out at half past midnight I'd just dinged 21. I did a good deal of stuff that had nothing much to do with gaining xp so each level took a couple of hours. If the level curve really is flat, that's 160 hours to max level.

Allow for general pottering and you're looking at a couple of months for someone not bent on burning through, even if they play every day. Mix in five intriguing races, each with its own extensive starting area, eight classes offering significant variations in playstyle, glissando content so it stays relevant at any level and long-term replayability doesn't look like much of a problem any more, even if the levels do tick through quickly.

Combat Difficulty - At Level

No, you go in and I'll stay outside and keep watch

Honestly, it was even easier than last time!

Mind that oil lamp!
After all the commentary and debate about how some people found GW2 solo combat different, difficult, unforgiving, challenging or plain not much fun, I thought I'd go out of my way to push the limits to see what I could get away with.

The biggest gap I managed was five levels. At 20th there were level 25 mobs I could kill. Not all of them, I had to look for soft targets. Grubs were good. Drop back a level to 24 and I could pretty much take my pick. Two at once was rarely a problem.

On anything from even-con to three levels above me there was never much doubt who'd win, even if I got adds. In one very satisfying battle I downed a stream of something like a dozen fast-spawning level 22 and 23 Skales, fighting them in twos and threes without respite for several minutes before they finally overwhelmed me with their endless respawns.

Combat Difficulty - Autotuned

Might need some tweaks.

I think we got Elementals again
When going back through areas ten levels below me, autotuned by the game to the right level, it didn't feel all that different to being mentored down in EQ2. Nothing offered anything like the same challenge it had when I'd met it coming up and I was very clearly much more powerful than at-level characters fighting alongside me. Level 12 mobs went down in a couple of shots. My pet ripped through everything, taking almost no damage at all.

I liked it, but then I like being overgeared for content. Heaven knows what it would be like if I was really level 80.

Stuff That Fights With Other Stuff 

Alert for it this time, I spotted plenty of mob-on-mob violence. All of it seemed to make welcome ecological sense, too.

Throw another prawn...
Skale do not share territory willingly with Tar Elementals.  Since Tar Elementals are an environmental disaster, filling freshwater lakes with black goo that sporadically erupts in gouts of flame and Skale look to be fish-eating amphibeous predators, driving them off would seem entirely rational, if you're a Skale. Or a Charr, come to that. We're cats. We like fish!

Ascalonian Separatists fight with black bears. I didn't see who started this one. Maybe the separatists were hunting, maybe the bears were being bears. Works either way.

Whimsy Alert!

Dredge are moles. Did you know that? I didn't. I do now because I found an event where you pick up a very large hammer and try to whack Dredge as they pop up out of the ground. Ring any bells?

I also found out where they live. Moldavia.

Anyway, I have my whimsy-proof craft-knitted cardigan and fluffy slippers ready so I'm not scared. Do your worst, ArenaNet! Roll on BWE2 and roll on launch!


Monday, May 14, 2012

I'm In a Suit! : Vanguard

In the run up to the Free-to-Play conversion sometime later this year Vanguard has a loyalty program going on. It's exceptionally generous. Too good to miss in fact. So I didn't. With anyone.

The April rewards were good - a best-in-slot item that grows with your character, a title and a vanity pet - but the May rewards knock those into a cocked hat, whatever that is.

Getting most of the attention with many cries of "I'm on a Boat!" is the Brown Sloop. Vanguard has three sizes of ship - Sloop, Caravel and Galleon, each of which comes in three Continental styles and three colors.

Having my first sloop made on commission remains one of my most memorable MMO events. Back then I chose a Blue Kojani Sloop and I still think it's the best-looking option in its class, but after five years I still only have two ships to my name so I was hardly going to sniff at the Thestran style or the dull color. A free boat is a free boat and a Brown Thestran Sqaure-Rigged Sloop will do just fine, thanks!

You'd think giving away a ship, one of the benchmark status items of the game, would be enough, but you'd be wrong. Very wrong. This merry month of May every character can have, merely for the asking, a Giant Robot Suit of his or her very own!

Telon, like many fantasy worlds, is infested with gnomes. All gnomes (apart from Garden Gnomes) are lovers of technology but the gnomes of Mekalia take it to an extreme degree. It seems they have so much advanced military hardware lying around they can afford to  hand it out to anyone who asks. Specifically,  the Kamelott Overland Onslaught Life-Sustaining Exo-Skeleton. Not just an appearance item, this. It's a mount with a 50% run-speed boost. And it clanks. Shame they decommissioned the weapons systems but you can't have everything.

So, a ship and a "mount". That has to be enough, doesn't it? Nope. More to come.

Perhaps clanking around looking like something out of Panzer Pets isn't your idea of high fantasy. You'd rather stick to your good old horse (unfortunate image there - sorry about that). That's a very respectable position so here, have some barding. And some tack. Great look, great stats, great price - free.

Barding in Vanguard is horse-armor that stops you getting knocked off your mount as you barrel through packs of wolves or hordes of undead. Tack is the reigns that make your mount go faster. Both display on the mount. Well, they do if your mount is a horse. On a camel, not so much.

Ship, mount, barding, tack - that's carpenters and leatherworkers out of business. Who else can we ruin? Ah, how about the smiths. No not The Smiths. Armorsmiths and weaponsmiths. Every 44 hours throughout May each character 50 or above can have three free Kamelott Supply Crates. Inside each of these, potentially, is a high-grade, high-level piece of armor or, more rarely, a weapon. Plus a bunch of potions and other ancillary adventuring aids.

I'd managed to miss the whole Kamelott thing. I vaguely remember when Kamelott Inc began to spread their sinister commercial tentacles across Telon but by then I wasn't paying close attention. I'd forgotten they have a whole large island just off New Targonor. Both my level 50s went there for the first time yesterday, a simple matter of a click and a 90 silver fee at the Riftway. In their camp a dwarf (or possibly a gnome in a false beard) cheerfully sold me hammers to open the free crates at one gold a bash. I knew there had to be a catch!

One gold for a guaranteed Yellow item and a chance at an Orange is pretty darn near free, though. I'm not complaining. It would also be churlish to complain that although Graak the Soft-Hearted is happy to hand out free Kamelott crates to just about anyone, only level 50s can get to the vendor who sells the hammers to open them.

It's particularly frustrating since the items inside the crates are tradeable, but the hammers to open them are not. The Riftway insists you have to be Level 50 to ride and getting to the Kamelott camp by sea or overland was beyond me in the short time I was willing to give it. It may be possible, though. I will have to investigate further.

So that's the Vanguard May Veteran's Reward Package. Oh, and there's another title in there somewhere. They're doing one of these every month until the game goes F2P. Can't imagine what they'll be giving away by the end. Fingers crossed for a flying mount.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Kickstarter - Sport of the Future.

With apologies to Lloyd Dobler. Hmm, now I want to go watch the whole thing.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Kickstarter, the crowdfunding website, has started to draw indie developers like Woody's MMO bug zapper in reverse. These are three I'm watching:


You probably know about this one already. It's the 21st Century equivalent of Gilsoft's 1980s masterpiece The Quill. No? Just me then. Designed by Brian Green among others, (you may know him from Meridian 59 and Psychochild's Blog) Storybricks aims to handle all the heavy coding and design lifting in the background, leaving you free to tell your own stories in any way that fits, from single-player RPG to dynamic, persistent MMO.

There's an "open alpha demo" on their website if you want to poke around. I fired it up the other day and it runs in a browser. Takes just a few seconds and you're in. I once lost a summer to NeverWinter Nights so even thinking about what could happen with this one makes me nervous!

Panzer Pets

I read about this one on Massively and it grabbed me instantly, the way Wildstar did. Kaozz at ECTmmo likes the look of it too. The opening line of their Kickstarter pitch pretty much sums up why I feel these guys deserve to succeed: "There are three things each gamer likes, collecting stuff, customizing characters and leveling up!" That's me sold.

The design aesthetic looks exceptionally solid and counter to what you might expect from an MMO focused on collecting pet robots and making them fight each other, the whole thing oozes worldiness.

I'm really, really not sure about that name, though...

Dark Solstice 

This one may well have passed you by. I've been following Dark Solstice for what seems like forever. Years and years. I was in the closed alpha for a while, although I rarely logged in. It was one of the straws that broke my alpha-applying camel's back.

I fear the candle I once held for this game may have burned too long. I'm not sure I'll be playing even if they do make their target, but I hope they make it all the same. They've been pushing this stone up the hill for so long they deserve to see it roll down the other side.

The competition is stiff, though. At time of writing Storybricks has yet to hit 10% of its $250k target and there's only two and a half weeks left before the cut-off. Panzer Pets has about the same, with three weeks to get the rest of their $85k. Dark Solstice only just started. So far they have one backer. They want $50k and they have a month left to get it.

I wish them all the very best of luck. I'm going to pledge something to at least two out of the three but I hope they all end up getting made even if the Kickstarter thing doesn't work out. If it  does, expect to see more and more small studio MMOs going down this route. If not, well, games got made before Kickstarter...

Take a Moment : NBI

I've been writing for decades but I've been blogging for less than a year so I feel somewhat diffident about giving advice. I've learned more from the NBI than anyone's likely to learn from me and I certainly don't have much insight to offer on the technical side of putting a blog together. So this is more an observation than a piece of advice. If you plan on playing MMOs and blogging about them as well, it helps if you have a job where you can blog from work.

I mentioned last time that before blogging existed I was deeply invested in the zine scene. For something over a decade I wrote, designed, laid out, pasted up, photocopied, collated and mailed apazines. It took up some of my free time but I was fortunate to have a job that let me get a lot of pages finished during the working day. I was able to be enormously productive without really losing out on anything else I wanted to do.

I don't have a job like that any more, so I do most of my posting at the weekend. Fortunately, like Travis McGee I am taking my retirement on the installment plan. I never work Sundays or Mondays and every other week I don't work Saturday or Tuesday either. Those are my blogging days. It works well for mood pieces and theorycrafting but not so well when I want to jump the news train. Sometimes I spot something I'd like to respond to but before I can get anything done the moment's passed.

I really must get a cushion for this chair
Blogging about MMOs isn't always conducive to playing them, either. Keeping up a blog can eat into the day and playing MMOs is already a famously time-consuming hobby. If you plan on doing both there may be conflict and choices may have to be made. Are you going to potter around sorting out your banks? Ask if anyone in the Guild wants to do anything? Or should you knuckle down and get a post done?

An average post takes me a couple of hours, a really well-considered one could take a whole afternoon. Starting up a blog doesn't magically add bonus hours to your day so being able to take your blogging hours from a different pool than your gaming hours helps a lot and I'd guess from the times the posts tend to appear that many, probably most of the blogs I follow are done at work.

Where did I put that blasted thesaurus?
Since it's unlikely and indeed inadvisable that you'll be willing to change your profession just to get more blogging time in, my actual advice is to pace yourself and develop your time management skills. Don't paint yourself into a corner where every post takes hours to produce. Throw in a few short squibs between the dissertations. (Classic "Do what I say, not what I do" there!). Work out where the blogging time's going to come from before you find yourself resenting the tyranny of the blank page that takes you away from the thing that brought you there in the first place - the pleasure of playing MMOs.

And as others have said, don't obsess about numbers, page counts, followers, traffic. Write what you want to write, when you want to write it. Speak when you have something to say, not just to hear the sound of your own voice. Some of my favorite bloggers, like Potshot for example, seem to post once in age but when they do it's like getting a surprise package in the mail. Gordon at We Fly Spitfires dropped from posting almost daily to about once a week but I look forward to seeing what he has to say just as much as I ever did.

I guess what I'm saying is relish your gaming and your writing. Don't let blogging about MMOs turn into yet another MMO grind. And if you can get The Man to pay you while you blog, well that's just sugar on top!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Once Bitten : Fallen Earth

Who can say what made me decide patch up Fallen Earth after all this time. The recent flurry of publicity all came later.   It's pushing a year since Gamers First refitted it for Free to Play and beyond a couple of quick pop-ins I've scarcely thought about the post-apocalyptic sandbox-lite at all. Then on a whim a few days ago I dug out the launcher and stepped back into New Flagstaff.

It always seems to be sunset when I wake up in Fallen Earth. Night and day cycles are long here. Day's bright, night's dark and sunset is orange. Really orange. Skyshrine orange. Once my eyes adjusted to the glare, everything looked a lot better than I remembered. Often  does coming back to an MMO after a long break. I can think of several reasons for that, not least a new monitor and graphics card but developers do have this odd urge to keep tweaking the graphics up and there's been a little of that, definitely. Whatever, a wasteland never looked prettier.

Oh no, not you again
Mounts in Fallen Earth live in the world. There's no packing them away in your haversack. "How do I put my horse away?" is a question I must have heard in the help channel a dozen times an hour when the game was new and bless me if I didn't just hear it again twice in five minutes. It's not my place to poke fun, though - I know my horse doesn't go in my pack but do I know where my horse is?

Tastes best roasted in its shell. Allegedly.
See, I had a horse, but I haven't seen him for nearly a year. Or fed him. If this was a real sandbox, he'd be a bleached pile of bones by now. Then someone would have stolen the bones. He must be dead.

Nope! He was right where I left him! And even in the middle of a bunch of horses all standing around outside New Flagstaff's open-air bank looking pretty much the same, I knew which one was mine! I really did. I looked at them all, said to myself "That's him over there", moseyed over, mounted up and rode away. That's the true, unbreakable bond between a cowboy and his horse, that is!

I'll bend your flamin' ariel pal!
Yes, they say Fallen Earth is a post-apocalyptic MMO but we all know it's at least half a Western. It's like the Wild Bunch meets Westworld. With chickens. I like to think of my character there as a cross between Ian Hunter and Clint Eastwood, although I'm not sure Clint beat bandits to death with a sledgehammer and I'm almost certain Ian Hunter never did.

So I rode out of town. With the sun going down I cast a long shadow. Anyone would in that hat. I was ready for trouble. Alright, I was looking for trouble and I found some, too. More than I could handle, since it turned out I couldn't remember how to fight. I tried everything - left click, right click, double-click, A for Attack. All the obvious options.

Know what it is? Middle mouse button.

My complacent horse watched me take three long, embarrassing jogs up the cracked highway towards Post 23 before I worked that out. He wouldn't have been so complacent if it was ants not bandits chasing me. Ants eat horses. Takes them a while, too. Remember that next time you give me that horse laugh, Old Glue.

So now I know how to swing a baseball bat, I'm safely holed up in the Enforcer stronghold at Post 23 and I even fed my horse. I always wanted to make it to Sector 3. It's too late for Monkeytown but I'd still like to see some real trees. Have horse, will travel.
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