MMOs and the weirdness of raiding…

I’ve been chewing over this post for a couple of months now, ever since I undertook my first dungeons runs in Guild Wars 2 earlier this year but I’ve been meaning to write something about raiding since I began to tag along with raids in LOTRO back in 2011. Now there are huge differences between those two games but there is also a striking similarity, at least for me, and that is that I find raiding not only profoundly boring but also confusing in its stylistic switch from the rest of the gameplay.

GW2 is probably the best example of this. The game itself is anything but boring with the heart and soul of it engineered to allow you to play pretty much alone whilst giving you something to do all the time. Wherever you are you are never more than a few minutes from an event chain and you are encouraged to use the various weapon and profession skills to complete them. As an engineer I know I have certain rifle skills that work well with turret skills and I need to use both, as well as constant movement and healing, to win the fight and this feels right, it feels like the game Arenanet designed. But when it comes to raiding it all changes.

From a position of knowing your skills and understanding how to dance around an enemy in order to survive, you are thrust into a game mode where all you have to do is stack, i.e. all stand on exactly the same spot and mash attack, heal & rez skills, and that is mind-numbingly dull. Not only is the game play style dull, but what it does to your experience of the world is criminal! Do you know what I see of most fights in raids? A firework display of particle effects centered on a strange multi-limbed beast and nothing else – none of the amazing wotk the devs have put into the area because we are all stood in a crush hitting and healing and checking out emails on your phone instead of concentrating on the fight.

I would love to experience more of the dungeons and areas built by Arenanet but not stood in a clump. I want to use the skills I’ve learnt in the game, not be forced to play a whack-a-mole. I want to take the awesome moves I pull fighting a group of Tamini Centaurs and apply them to fighting a dungeon boss so that when I bring it down I look awesome, not like a strange mutant-blob-thing!

Sigh. Maybe I’m missing something obvious but for the life of me I can’t think what it is. Raiding is boring.

World building, part 2: This town, is coming like a ghost town…

In my last world building post I talked about, amongst other things, better weather & seasonal effects to make the world seem more alive and changeable. Well in this post I want to move from the macro back down the scale and look at towns, cities and other settlements because it’s not just the world that needs to come alive for me but the place I call home too.

My first ever experience of an online, populated city was Nova Albion in Second Life. I rezzed nearish and wandered on down where I was grabbed by the lure of free Linden Dollars in a camping spot (this was before I realised how damaging camping spots are to online worlds, sucking up computing resources for no benefit to the environment). Once I broke free of the camping chair I began to explore the city and was amazed that such a place could exist – it was a city built by and populated by the players, a deal of who I could see around me! Now it was sometime before I realised that vast majority of players were in one or two locations within the city and the rest of it was a well-tended wasteland so at the time this was a hugely exciting to me.

Nova Albion, Second Life's first city...

Nova Albion, Second Life’s first city…

My next experience was of Bree in LOTRO and I still remember riding through the gates and down the cobbled road from Combe for the first time. It was night and I was following a more experience player in my first few hours of playing and I can still feel the excitement swelling inside me, something akin to the first time after passing my driving test my Dad had me follow him onto the motorway – pure nervous adrenaline as I moved from one world to another, it was amazing.

Bree, so small yet so oddly important...

Bree, so small yet so oddly important…

My most recent experience has been in GW2 where I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with Divinity’s Reach (such a bloody beautiful name, too). The levels! the architecture! The housing! The scale! Oh my gods I was blown away! It is still the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen in a game but do you know how many times I go there and explore it? Never. I teleport to the bank and teleport back out to the game. I teleport to the Maiden’s Whisper for RP and teleport out again. If I crafted I’d teleport to the crafting station and then out to the game again. The is no reason for me to wander around the city and therefore it could be three or four small rooms and I’d still get the same benefits and that is a crying shame.

Divinity's Reach - full of places you can never reach or explore...

Divinity’s Reach – full of places you can never reach or explore…

Do you know what Nova Albion, Bree & Divinity’s Reach have in common? They are deserts. Wastelands. Ghost towns. People hurry from location to location in an entirely perfunctory manner to get between locations such as bank to auction house or auction house to crafting station in order to complete a necessary task related to the furthering of a step within the game. Taking a helicopter’s eye view of the city over 24 hours you’d see players whizzing back and forth between a small number of locations using the same routes whilst the rest of the city simply lies dormant.

So what to do about this sorry state of affairs, I hear (or at I imagine I hear) you ask?

That’s a good question I have no easy answers to but here’s what I’d like to see in online cities, things I feel would brathe some life into them and make them worth not just visiting again but actually playing in:

  • Player housing throughout. True this was the case in SL and cities there were still deserted but none of these ideas are meant to happen in isolation. I think player housing is important because not only does it give players a reason to be in the city but it also makes them invested in the city. All of the amazing buildings in Divinity’s Reach are unusable with only the occasional one open, but even these are museum displays that can’t be played or interacted with. True there is the home instance of Selma but it’s just that, an instance; a private bubble of the city created for and inhabited by only you – and where is the fun in that? Let players live in the city and make it their own.
  • Events throughout the city all the time. Give the players a reason to be in the city other than crafting, banking or redecorating their house. Player guilds like LOTRO’s Lonley Mountain Band prove that if you put an event on people will come so put events on! Allow players to put events on! For the love of all that is holy, breathe some life into the place and get people dancing! Random small celebrations should happen, Weekly markets with special items, Parades that wind their through the city streets. All night parties right outside your window. Holy days of celebration to the various six Gods. And why not have dungeons in the city? Why not have quests and dynamic events happen there?
  • Let crafters own shops. Let players own a shop that you can visit and where you can buy their goods, whether those have been made or found. True these items could also be sold on the trading post but why not between people? Slap a 15% sales tax on and the gold sink remains. And if the player is out playing then let them hire an NPC to man the shop for them (an even bigger gold sink).
  • Whilst on the subject of NPCs, make them real. Don’t have them standing around waiting to be clicked on but have them wandering the neighbourhood. Have them going in and out of buildings and doing stuff other than waiting. Like exploring a city, listening to NPCs talking is fun the first time but then never again. Hell there is a conversation between two ministers about the Centaur problem going on right now that was going on word for word when I started over a year ago. Why? That conversation hasn’t moved on so it gives the impression neither has the world. NPCs should seem like they really live and work in the city otherwise the city seems like a theme park exhibit.
  • Let the city change at night. Traders should close shop and go home, NPCs should wander off to their families or the pub, parties should start, Seraph patrols increase, curfews enforced, drunken fights break out, arrests made. In short the city should act like a real city and be different at night as it is in the day.

Of course, a lot of this goes for *all* the settlements in the world. All of them need real day & night cycles with NPCs that do more than stand around like idiots awaiting an instruction to sit. Players should be free to live in the countryside if city life is not for them. Merchant caravans should allows player-traders to join them. The whole bloody world should feel more interactive and real and alive and a lot less like a game where you can’t play with all of the pieces.

This is exciting as my home instances gets...

This is exciting as my home instances gets…

Life in Tyria: Building a better me…

I’ve been messing about with builds lately. It’s not something I’ve done a lot of in the past, I think I was just getting the hang of it when I stopped playing the game in Dec 12 and so I never really got to go deep into the heart of how it affects gameplay experience.

Well now I know, or least I know a little bit more than back in 2012; it affects it a lot and with the coming changes to how we spec out a character it’s only going to become more flexible and powerful and this seems like the perfect time to start tinkering with it.

But let me back up a bit and explain why I’ve been fooling about under the hood. I play an engineer you see and whilst the ‘Engi’ is a fun class to solo with it really is designed to be a strong support class and therefore many of its’ tool kits are most powerful & (possibly only) useful in group situations. I play 99.9% of the time alone. This makes most of the kits and gadgets the Engi has available useless to me, likewise with the traits that back them up, and I find myself relying heavily on turrets to pull aggro from mobs and then lots of dodging and kiting (and healing!) to stay alive long enough to grind the enemy down to a bloody puddle of zero. Yet when I watch my son play his Warrior, a class that has no gadgets but can use more weapons and has access to stronger armour, he can just attack stuff and it dies right there in front of him! Oh I’m so jealous! Here am I, my fingers tying themselves in knots on my G13, my brain screaming DODGE! ROLL! DROP TURRET! GRENAAAAAAADE! DODGGGGGGE! as I dance and wheel around one on-level veteran with my health bubble bouncing up and down like a nervous bride’s nightie, whilst he runs up to a gang of four slightly higher level mobs and casually punches them so hard their bones turn to dust and they shit out gold coins as an apology for disturbing him!*


My son’s warrior speaking to Logan Thanckery and planning to casually kill mobs whilst napping.

So I took to the traits panel and began to play about with my build. I’m level 80, have most skills unlocked, have OK armour & weapons (all rares rather than exotics but the difference is small enough to ignore on the macro scale of getting my arse kicked by a vet undead giant and his small army of big ass zombie grubs) and well -chosen runes and sigils throughout – to be honest a re-trait is all I have left to play with.

In the past, when I first learnt about builds, I speced myself out to be a crack shot with the rifle and increase both my crit chance and crit damage and this worked well for me. Then I read about the flame-truck build and followed that (basically making myself tougher with a flamethrower) but whilst this was good for a while it did not scale up well and became less effective the higher I got. By the time I left the game I had settled on a turret-centric built that made my turrets stronger and ‘tossable’ but in coming back into the game now and finally getting to Orr I’ve found this wasn’t really working for me, especially as the turrets are all but one-shotted as soon as I have them out. So I tried a few new builds with the intention of mixing things up and going crazy in the hopes of finding a cool niche for myself but straight away I was stopped as all the wacko options use the tool kits and gadgets that are more support orientated. Still I tried. I kept a solid 30 points in the explosives line (it saddens me to say that pretty much all Engis you talk to can’t justify breaking the tyranny of the top line here) and moved a full 30 into tools to try and gain some kit swapping, hit-blocking abilities and the final 10 giving me tougher turrets. With this I lost a lot of nice stuff from the previous build such as reduced fall damage and faster running speed but, I reasoned, if it meant the enemy went down faster it was a trade off worth making.

They didn’t. It wasn’t.

Why. Wont. You. Just. Bloody. Well. DIE!?

Why. Wont. You. Just. Bloody. Well. DIE!?

True I discovered a lovely trait where my speed was increased a lot when swapping to grenades, but other than that the Orrian undead remained undead for far longer than I had hoped. It seemed that just like the combo of rifle and grenades, the only traits that help an Engi solo successfully in Tyria are firearms and explosives.

A chat with my guildies helped a little, they convinced me that other weapon options and traits do work, but I think we all agreed they tend to work in group situations so I headed off to the trainer to once again reset and re-build (at a cost of less than 2sp, I can see why Arenanet are about to make this free – it penalises nothing but my time). The upshot is I’ve gone all the way back to something very much like my first build; 30 in explosives, 30 in firearms and a cheeky 10 in inventions to protect me from fall damage. The main difference this time is that my armour, runs and sigils are better chosen to build my strength, toughness & precision rather the healing and condition damage that (I’ve been reliably told) don’t scale well and therefore are wasted. Once more things I shoot at or blow up bursts into flame and dies in a writhing heap at my satisfied (probably dodging, rolling & dancing) feet. Now if only my turrets were better at agroing high level mobs for a decent amount of time I think I’d be pretty happy with my performance. True that my son’s warrior can still punch things into orbit whilst I do the foxtrot with them, but at least I kill them with some style and panache, eh?

Use all the 'nades...

Use all the ‘nades…

* I may be over stating the case for the Warrior. I think they were silver coins and the apology may have been a death gurgle.

World building, part 1: Being British, it’s all about the weather…

I had planned this post to be part of a much larger post directed at my dissatisfaction with GW2 and other MMOs but as I drafted and redrafted it in my head it kept changing, its focus shifting and realigning, until I just decided to open a New Post box and see what happened.

World Building part 1. I had no idea that was going to pop out of my fingertips when I started but now I think it’s perfect because the lack of immersion that leads to my feeling of disconnection & dissatisfaction with GW2 is not unique to that game and, in some respects, not the fault of that or any game. So here is my first post in a new series about what I want, desperately in many cases, to see in a game world. They are in no real order – my thinking isn’t always that joined up – but I’m sure common themes will pop up here and there. So, where to start. Well, seeing as I’m British, why not with the weather…

Give me more weather: I want a world where the only choices are not sun or rain (with snow at Xmas), I want weather that goes beyond the binary and into the realms of patterns and even seasons and I want them all to have an impact on the world. Let the rain pool up and cause flooding. Give me hail that damages buildings, lightning storms that start forest fires, heat waves that result in a terrible droughts and mass-herd deaths Give me meteor impacts and plagues of killer locusts! I want ship-sinking typhoons and village-erasing twisters! And what is so wrong with a good old fashioned earthquake? GIVE ME MORE THAN SUN AND RAIN! *pant pant pant*… Actually, earthquakes aren’t weather are they? But they do lead me on to my next point quite nicely.

Why is the land always the same? OK, here in the UK I’m lucky enough to live in a stable & prosperous place and the land hardly every changes. Except it does. all the time. Fields that have been there since my dad was a kid are being turned into housing estates, new railways are wiping villages off the map and cities are eating up towns all the time. The land changes, except in MMOs where, like the seasons and the weather, it’s always the same. A path through the hills and out to the coast that is never blocked by a flood or a landslide is just the same as a corridor in a FPS. I want people (both players and non-players) and the weather (see above) and seasons (below) to change the landscape. Don’t tell me it’s a living world when most of it is pickled in aspic!

And whilst I’m on the topic of seasons, can we please add some? I know that to see a Spring, Summer, Autumn & Winter cycle roll past means you are a year older and it is clear that your character is not, but if I can suspend my disbelief that the Simpsons have been the same age for 25 years I can do the same in a game, trust me. The fact you include a day/night cycle indicates there is a passage of time and my head has yet to explode from the fact day after day cycles round and yet nothing seems to change. Put seasons in, make them run in the same way as your day & night time frame (roughly 4 to 6 times faster than normal) and the world will see to be fresh and living instead of some weird West World theme park stuck on one setting forever. And ever. And ever.

I’ll take a break there but in my next post I want to move on to the people in these worlds and the lives they often don’t but really should live. And some stuff about night time as well. Oh god, the night time in games sucks.

One last point before I hit publish and end my lunch break, please don’t imagine I’m having a pop at GW2 or LOTRO or Second Life. I’m simply putting forward my wishlist and no one game is more guilt than another of failing to live up to my vastly inflated sense of expectations. There are probably some very good technical reasons why some of the things I want can’t be done, but that doesn’t stop me wanting them. I have a similar problem with Miranda Kerr and Karlie Kloss.

Another sunny day... how dull.

Another sunny day… how dull.

A Week In Tyria…

It’s been just under a week since I got back from Canada & jumped into Tyria (and just over a week since I missed the early access launch – dammit!) and I am taking a night off to put my thoughts about it in order.

First off I can confirm that as expected I am not in the same grip of mania I was in this time last year with LOTRO. I can also confirm that I’m very, very happy about this. My fall for LOTRO was too fast and too deep as I was on the rebound after ending a long term relationship with Second Life. I could see nothing other than shiny new and ignored all the bad bits until I burnt out on the endless grind Turbine seem to feel is necessary in a game. Now my transition from LOTRO to GW2 has been more carefully spaced, less of a rebound and more of an evolution. I’m addicted to the game, but in a deeper, richer, more controlled way. But enough about me, you came here to read about the game, didn’t you? Righto then, let’s start at the beginning…

Pre-Launch & Launch.
As I’ve said before, my holiday meant I missed the three-day headstart my pre-purchase afforded me but, honestly, I wasn’t bothered. When I got home on the morning of the 28th I didn’t rush off to patch the client or anything, nope I just waited until later that day before I got around to it. I created a Human Engineer (Jurak Gearwright – friend me) and despite a client crash that wiped him before completing the creation process I was able to get right in and start blasting Centaurs in Shaemoor on my second attempt. It was nice to see that the betas meant my key bindings were ready to go from the outset and the whole experience was smooth like butter. True that for a while I came up against what I had feared from the betas, namely the feeling that I was simply retreading old ground, but once out of Shaemoor and deeper than two chapters into my personal story I passed the limits of my previous experiences and everything felt exciting & new 🙂

My System & The Beauty of Tyria
Let’s not beat about the bush, my nearly three-year old computer with its AMD 3-core CPU & creaky nVidia GTX260 is not up to the demands of GW2. And yet, even with that old rig and the outdated drivers I have (the GFX card won’t take the latest ones) the damn game still managed to look 3 times better than LOTRO & 10 times better than SL. Still, there have been odd glitches and crashes that I’m fairly sure have been down to my old card so I’m splashed out and ordered a new gaming rig just so I can see the glorious beauty of Tyria with all the settings maxed out and it should be here any day now – expect some stunning looking screenshots 😀 (this is it, by the way, a freaking 4GHz i7 for gawd’s sake! Hell, I’m even going to overclock the bugger!)

Queensdale & Levelling
As I mentioned above, I had done some of the Human starter zone before in the first & second beta weekends, but this did not stop me enjoying a third trip through the beautiful region of Queensdale. I have found the levelling process really well paced, so much so that I was just over 15.5 when I left for the Kessex Hills, a the next area and a 15-25 area – how’s that for being right on the money? It’s worth noting that in GW2 the levelling structure is designed to feel very secondary to everything else and it really does. Yes there have been folks who reached the level cap of 80 in a day or so (I’m not sure how long, but it was really quick) but it is, as far as gameplay goes, meaningless. You see in LOTRO if you were at level 65 and you went back to the Barrow Downs outside Bree then you could simply one-shot any critter there and nothing is a challange to you whatsoever. In GW2 a level 80 revisiting Queensdale is levelled down to between level 1 and 15 again and suddenly everything in that zone is a threat to them. This means you never become a boring God-like character but rather you are always wonderfully, excitingly mortal and your level is just a number affecting stats. My plan is to never out-level content, at least not with Jurak, as I want to experience the whole of the PvE game just the way it was designed.

The Personal Story – Beware! Here Be Spoilers!
Ahhh, the personal story. In the betas I stopped this around two chapters in and boy am I glad I did because then one of the two central pillars of the game has been preserved for me (the other pillar being, for me at least, dynamic events). Still, I have to say that I’ve found some of the aspects of the story to be a little jarring and a tad disappointing for me (I’m a narrative junkie above and before everything else). For instance, in my story as a street-rat who lost his sister to Centaurs, I spent a lot of the early levels getting my friend Quinn out of trouble and foiling Two-Blade Pete’s plans to poison the city’s water supply but when I brought the news of Pete’s plot to Logan Thackery I was presented with a choice: stop the bandits poisoning the water or leave to save Quinn. What? Me, a man on his own, stopping the who bandit group when, correct me if I’m wrong, Logan is in charge of the local police force? Of course I’m going to save Quinn – the bloody Seraph can stop the bandits, surely. Apparently not! I seriously hope the writers don’t butcher them the way Turbine turned the Rangers of Middle Earth into clowns and half-wits just to crowbar the player into events. Look, my ego is not so fragile that I need to destroy all narrative credibility just to feel important so please don’t ask me to make daft choices just so I can feel all study – just write me into a damn good story 🙂

Exploring & Those Beautiful Dynamic Quests
Ahhh, exploring… how I love to explore in games, to wander off the beaten track and find exciting, beautiful places. SL was great for this because you never knew what you’d find except you knew the people in the game had made it themselves and therefore they could be pug ugly at times. LOTRO was a different kettle of fish because even though the the whole (sort of) of a very beautifully realised Middle Earth was there for you to explore, assuming you were a high enough level, there was never anything to do once you got wherever it was you were going. Oh there might be something there, a beautiful ruin or an interesting cave, but there was nothing happening there. In the end all exploring in LOTRO boiled down to was postcard collecting.

Now in Guild Wars 2 exploring is pure fun because no matter where you go (assuming, as in LOTRO, you of are high enough level) there is always something happening! Dynamic events unfold in the world around you and you can jump right into them as you explore! So many times I’ve set off for location A and ended up no where near because I’ve been pulled in by an event chain that just started as I ran past!

In Summary…
Quite simply Guild Wars 2 is the best game I’ve played. Well, mostly. Anyway, buy it & play it.

I’m on Piken Square – drop me a line in game (all Tyrian mail is picked up and delivered by pigeons… really.)

Why I game: The importance of fun.

In my last post I went over the main reasons I can never seriously play LOTRO, or any grindy MMO again and whilst it’s all very well for me to say what I hated about LOTRO maybe I should balance that out by telling you what makes me not only want to play a game but then come back to play again and again.

The answer, it turns out, is simple. Fun. Just pure, unadulterated fun. And if a game isn’t providing me with fun then I have to ask myself what the hell is the point in playing it, which seems to be a point of view Arenanet agrees with 🙂

But what, for me at least, makes a game fun? Well now that is a question that can’t be answered so simply but being the brave little soldier I am, I’ll try 😉

Tell me a story…

First off I need a story. I’m a narrative driven lad and I can’t tell you how many games I’ve dismissed lately because their stories were either weak or sounded far too generic. LOTRO obviously had a huge advantage with me here because I’ve been in love with Middle Earth since reading LotR when I was about 13 but even when it came to GW2 I have to say I was very sceptical. Every time I heard about the game, every fan blog post or podcast that joked about its release date just reconfirmed what I thought to myself – it sounded like yet another cookie cutter fantasy game that would annoy me for poorly mimicking Tolkien. Yet something kept dragging me back, kept pulling my attention towards the game. Eventually it was Rubi Bayer’s enthusiasm in the Massively Speaking podcast that convinced me to actually look into the game seriously and almost straight away I loved what I read – here was a game who’s designers not only wanted to make it fun but wanted to pour in enough lore to sink several other lesser MMOs. I found myself suddenly falling in love with a whole new world.

Let me play, not think…

After a story I need easy gameplay. I don’t mean some kind of dumbed down system but rather an intuitive experience that is easy to learn and soon becomes second nature. The control system for Left 4 Dead 2 is a dream – it vanishes into the background and just lets me play. At the other end of the scale is the Legendary Item system in LOTRO which just leaves me scratching my head and feeling very, very frustrated. Somewhere in between is nice – the skills system in GW2 recently went from (for me at least) a big old mess of “choose anything y’all!” to a much-easier-to-understand-without-spending-hours-searching-wikis-and-forums tree system. I like that. It is powerful yet I can instantly understand it and not break my play-fun-headspace in the way that even thinking about LOTRO’s LIs does.

I vant to be alone, dharlinks…

Next I need to be alone. I want to be able to play the damn game alone. But I also want to be able to group dead easily. A contradiction I know, but one that I know I’m not alone in. I loved the group play in Left 4 Dead (ignoring the arseholes you could get stuck with), found things a little more restrictive and forced in LOTRO and breathed a sigh of relief when I played GW2. Grouping just works in GW2 so well! From formal guild membership to totally ad hoc quest groups, it is just a dream to join up and play with other people. My only note of worry about GW2 so far is about how bloody hard it can be to tackle some things on your own and make no mistake, I like to play on my own. I have kids, limited playtime, my own goals and a grasshopper mind and these things can make playing in a group a pain. I don’t always want to run with everyone else into a cave, I might want to explore the hills above instead and any game that wants to draw me in forever had better understand that. Give me a way to complete the whole damn thing on my own because I guarantee you that 99% of the time that’s *exactly* how I’ll be playing. I have lost count of how many times I simply couldn’t finish quests in LOTRO without asking kin mates for help and every damn time I felt cheated because these very nice people would come over to help with their level capped engines of destruction and reduce my experience of the quest to that of a spectator and that is not fun. Hell, why would I even buy a game I have no hope of being able to play?

Hell is other people…

Another not fun thing is other people, or rather the kind of knobends computer games seem to attract in abundance. One thing I always loved about LOTRO and have almost always hated in Left 4 Dead is the other players. In LOTRO I found a mature & intelligent community seemingly always willing to answer questions no matter how newbie they were. L4D2, on the other thumbless & rotting hand, seems to be infested with pricks. Still, it does mean when you find some good people you stick together for dear life, but that’s hardly a selling point is it. What I’m hoping GW2 manages to achieve is to take the freedom of L4D’s grouping and maintain the decency of LOTRO’s community and if it manages that then I think it will be one hell of a multilayer experience. *crosses fingers and prays to the gods of good friends*

You grind me right down, right down like a record baby…

Speaking of LOTRO and all things not fun, do I need to mention grind again? No, thought not. Still, whilst I may not mention grind I still have to explain what I want to see in its place. For kill deeds I don’t want to kill 300 bloody spiders, I want to tackle a quest chain that leads to a spider queen! For skills I don’t want to find glorified goblin toilet paper (ssorry, missing book pages) by killing 600 orcs, I want to break into a library and steal books! For reputation I don’t want to collect 400 shiny stones from 1,000 piles of recently slaughtered lizard guts, I want to save the chieftan’s daughter from a bloody scary witch’s tower! GIVE ME STORY, NOT GRIND! Make me feel like I’m a hero, not a street cleaner. Jesus H Presley people! If you ever, EVER ask me to waste my time again I’m gone. If, on the other hand, you offer fun, interesting quests and storylines I can feel involved in I will sit on your lap and stroke your luxuriant beard until the cows some home. Grind bad, play good – it is that bloody simple and GW2 gets it.

How much?!?

Do you know what the biggest reason me for never paying an MMO up until last May was? No, of course you don’t, you hardly know me after all but let’s pretend you all guessed correctly and at the same time. Yes, that’s right you clever lot! Monthly subscription fees! Now a tenner a month isn’t much and has always been within my budget (even after kids came along and ruined my whole life blessed me with their sunshine) yet I could never, ever bring myself to consider paying every month for a game. I only took the punt on LOTRO after finding out it was free and even though I bought the 12 month subscription I never counted this as a recurring fee because it just feel like paying for the game. If Turbine hadn’t totally pissed me off with a stupid combination of grind and greed then I would have happily paid another £100 last month, but their loss is my gain and now I have been shown the light by Arenanet it will have to be a very special game indeed that sees me ever, EVER pay more than once to play it.

Greed is so not good…

Did I mention ‘greed’ in that last part? Why yes, I do believe I did. Look dear game companies I totally understand you have to make a profit but when that desire to make money spills over into the realms of pure, naked corporate greed then I’m off. I am *not* a walking wallet for you to dip your hands into at every opportunity and selling me a feature that I feel you should have included into the game is the surest way to piss me off royally (*cough* LOTRO *cough*). Now I have no idea how this is going to work in GW2 but my hope is they put enough items in the shops (both important & fluff) that I want to buy from it without pulling a cheap, shitty stunt like the LOTRO wallet scam. Don’t rip me off and you’ll find more of my disposable income is predisposed to you (see what I did there?).

TL/DR (What do you mean you didn’t read the rest, you rude swines!)

So, there you have it. Just make your one-off purchase intuitive games full of fun, story driven adventures that I can complete on my own or with other friendly people with occasional trips to the cash shop for fun items rather than outright system improvements and I’m all yours, oiled and ready in your tent. Oh, and don’t ever, EVER make me grind. You wouldn’t like me when I grind.

The mill of God grinds slow but grinds exceedingly small…

This time last year I was deeply in love with a type of game that was new to me – the MMORPG. Sure I’d played in Second Life for over four years by that point so I had experienced the MMO part, and I had grown up playing paper & pencil role playing games such as MERP & Traveller so I had some knowledge of the RPG part, but to find myself playing a computer game that combined both was a revelation!

LOTRO, for that was the game, quickly proved to be a wonderful time-sink as I had a new world to explore that was free of the irritations that had built up for me in Linden Lab’s creation (lag, crazy management decisions, fugly landscapes, dumb but powerful players) and which offered me a play experience tailored to reaching an impressive goal. Unfortunately, within a few short months I began to realise that the green grass on the other side of hill might just be concealing a lot of thorny brambles.

Now, not having grown up playing MMOs I came to LOTRO as complete & unspoilt virgin. Yes I understood about existing in a 3D virtual persistent world, but I knew nothing about MMO combat or questing or levelling & skill progression. Like a man possessed with the desire to acquire new, exciting knowledge I threw myself into learning everything I could about just how MMOs work and this proved to be such a mammoth task that in my study of the details I simply overlooked the obvious, hulking elephant sat squarely in the room.

MMOs steal your time.

I don’t mean you become addicted and want to play every waking moment. No, every game or hobby does that at some point and it’s a normal reaction when doing something you enjoy to want to do lots more of it. At one time I would have given in and played as much as possible but now I’m married with kids that simply isn’t an option and I have to ration my on-line time and live vicariously through other people’s blogs, videos and podcasts. But this isn’t what I’m getting at when I say MMOs steal your time.

No, what I mean is that in the main the MMO business model makes money either through charging players regular subscriptions or leading them to make repeated purchases from an online micro-transaction store. The games themselves have evolved to feed the business model and a toxic relationship has grown up between them and you, the player. The games either deliberately space out content so you stay in game longer needlessly wasting hours of your time just so you pay another subscription fee, or they cynically build in mechanisms whereby you have to pay hard cash to overcome some inconvenience in the game.

Now I only have LOTRO to fall back on when I want to give examples but from what I hear many other games pull similar stunts to both greater & lesser degrees. To help me explain, let me give you some examples from 10 month playing Turbine’s LOTRO.

When Ranhold hit the right level, I wanted to start the process of getting his three legendary skills from his class trainer. All classes have the same route, you hit 35 (I think) and you can buy three books from your trainer that are ancient texts on your class. Unfortunately, because of their great age, several pages from each are missing and you are tasked with finding them. Once you do you can unlock one of three skills (one per book and presumably learnt from reading the great wisdom contained in each mouldy tome). Now, putting aside many logic issues (such as why rare books are for sale from trainers all over Middle Earth to all the practitioners of your class, and just how come these pages have fallen into the hands of any old bi-pedal creature in certain areas and of a certain level) the thing that really ripped my knitting about this task was how obvious it became that this was a just a mechanic to slow me down. It took me weeks of playing every evening and slaughtering hundreds upon hundreds of bad guys to find these pages and this was simply to keep me in the game long enough to charge me more subscriptions fees. Each book *could* have been gathered in a series of instanced quests that would have felt more logical and been far more fun than mindlessly hanging about waiting for the same orcs you had just killed for the twentieth time to respawn in exactly the same spots so you could kill them all again for the twenty first time and hope against hope the Gods of Random Number Generation would smile on you this time! But you see, the trouble with a quest line is it can be done in an evening and that isn’t good for poor old Turbine who want the poor sods playing their games to spew up more & more moolah. They can’t reach through the screen and pick your pocket so instead they manipulate their game so they can steal your time and charge you for it.

This wasn’t the only example, oh no. Reputation grinds always acted as a break on the story by stopping me in my tracks just so I could collect a bazillion twigs for no good or logical reason. Or what about kicking the crap out of several hundred (bad) dwarves in one mine just so I could get a goat from some (this time good) dwarves in another mine that would allow me to get around yet another mine full of dwarves (of which orientation I was past caring). And let’s not forget the three tasks assigned to you at around level 50? The ones that see you travelling all over the sodding place just to collect rare-ish drops from slugs and orcs and turtles and wargs and Uncle Bloody Tom Cobley for all I know? Why? For what reason?

To waste your time. To make you pay more.

And then there are the cash shop sinks. Every expansion Turbine seem to add a new grindy mechanic that includes an item you can get in game if you spend hundreds of hours killing hundreds of orcs just so you can then upgrade your Legendary Item in a system so designed to strip the fun out of feeling heroic you can only imagine it was designed by people who use Microsoft Excel to read War & Peace. Brian over at CMP said in one of his recent podcasts that he had resigned himself to the fact that every time Turbine put out a new expansion or update there is a very strong chance they will also add a new mechanic that will drive people to the store. This, to me at least, is simply not acceptable and not something I can accept.

But, I hear some of you say, I’m a Jonny Come Lately to these games so who am I to say that grinding is pointless or that adding cash item mechanics are bad form? True enough. I don’t speak for all MMO gamers, just me and I’ve spoken to lots of folks who love, or at least don’t mind, gathering reputation items and measure their success in gathering rancid pages from rotting orc corpses as quickly as possible. It’s just that it is not for me. I don’t like a company rationing my enjoyment of a game I’ve paid for. No, what I want is to buy a game and then play it how the hell I want to. I don’t want to have to spend hours and hours repeating menial, boring tasks. I may still choose to do that, but *I* want that choice and that is something I don’t think Turbine every truly offered me.

I also don’t like to feel as though I’m a wallet with legs to be opened and emptied when they feel like it. I want to feel like a valued customer and again I don’t think that Turbine have ever really demonstrated that I’m anything but a sucker to them.

Now please don’t feel I’m hitting just on Turbine here. Obviously I am but only because they are the only ones I have any experience with and I’m sure many game companies and their games are the same. I don’t play LOTRO any more and I’m damn sure I won’t play any game if I read even one review that mentions how grindy it is. Like refusing to continue reading bad book, life is too short to piss away playing games that just aren’t fun.

Of Mice and Men… This Time It’s Personal!

Remember how I was a-bleating about my inability to play GW2 with just a mouse and keyboard? Well after a very lengthy & bloody useful comments storm on that post (thanks guys – you know who you are and you all really helped!) I decided to try the Logitech G13 gamepad. I also swapped back to my Logitech G500 mouse and have shoved the Razer Naga in a drawer.

Now let me say that although I’ve done this to play Guild Wars 2 I have yet to try it out with Guild Wars 2 as there hasn’t been another stress test or beta weekend yet (I’m hoping there will be one this coming weekend) so I still don’t know if works. Still, I did get to test it out with LOTRO and after mucho head-scratching, heaps of program switching and a naval carrier full of swearing I managed to get to a set up that pretty much worked *and* has the capacity to work for GW2.

At first I tried strafing with the G13 thumb stick whilst moving & looking with the mouse but although it was easy to do, I found it tied my left hand up and I couldn’t fire off the skills. I tried loads more variations, even pulling out the Naga again, but it wasn’t until I had a brainwave over a ham & mayo butty on Sunday morning that I had a break-through. The G500 has a mousewheel that can be tilted left and right for scrolling. Or, it occurred to me, strafing!

Now it took me a looooong time to actually get LOTRO to recognise these small, sideways movements – in the end I found that I had to kill the G500 SetPoint software if I wanted LOTRO to see the side-scrolling movements and edit the keymap file to disable the up/down mousewheel scrolling which was making strafing a game of crazy mouse swingball. But by then end I found that I had a system that worked!

My right hand controls the camera & where I look as well as forward & backwards movement – my thumb sits on the wheel and tilts it left and right for circle strafing. This means I can do all the movement with my right hand so my left hand can sit on the G13 and hit the skills, jump & dodge (which I just made another jump in LOTRO). I took this rig out for a spin in Moria and it worked pretty well, I have to say. It’s going to take a lot of practice, but at least I feel the end result is achievable.

Hopefully there will be a beta soon and I can regain my hope.

Oh, one piece of advice if you are interested in the G13 – get big hands!

Guild Wars 2: When Animals Attack!

In both April’s beta event and the recent stress test I noticed something happening in the game world that made me stop and gawp in wonder. Something so simple yet so revolutionary that the only other time I have heard of something similar happening was way back in legendary days of Second Life’s pre-alpha existence. Something I have wanted to see ever since I joined my first persistent online world in 2006.

I saw animals attacking each other.


Now lest you think me no better than a bloody-thirsty virtual bear-baiter, let me qualify my last statement – I haven’t wanted to see animals fighting per se, rather I’ve often found myself looking at the lack of wildlife in Second life, and the dumb sword-fodder of LOTRO and thinking “There has to be more to in-game fauna than this…”

You see, in Second Life the only wildlife you ever see are the scripted creations belonging to (and made by) the users – there simply are no animals, no birds, no fish, no insects even that intrinsically exist in that world and that void leaves me with a saddening sense of sterility. Now LOTRO is different – LOTRO has wildlife in abundance, but once you’d got over the fact that some animals attack you whilst others run from you (unless you are an elf, of course) you began to notice something very, very odd indeed… a deer that would flee from your approach would stand quite happily next to a huge, slavering wolf! Hell, more than that, the ruddy great wolf that would nosily chew your legs off if you crossed its invisible aggression threshold appears to be quite happy ignoring the tasty deer stood a mere two feet away munching on lovely grass! How can this be right? Let me answer that for you, it isn’t. It isn’t right and annoys me because it seems so… well, lazy.

Which is why when I came across a wild boar fighting a ruddy great spider in the Guild Wars 2 beta I assumed it was part of a scripted dynamic event I’d stumbled on. But it wasn’t. A little later on I saw a giant wasp fighting another spider and a huge timber wolf brazenly wander up to a pack of moose and determinedly attack and kill them. In fact the more I wandered, the more animals I found in the middle of a rumble – they are wild already, wild and ready to start a fight with their own shadow it seems!

You see Arenanet have managed to do something I’ve never thought I’d see anyone pull off. They have created a world populated with animals that wander and think and fight each other and in my book that is a rather bloody wonderful addition to an already wonderful world. Now, shall we run a book on a fight between a timber wolf and a giant spider?

#LOTRO: An open letter to Turbine on why I will not renew my subscription.

I’ve never done this before. Oh I’ve ranted and blown off steam about this game or that, some broken feature or other, but I’ve never sat down and deliberately written a ‘letter’ to a company about why they have upset me so much. I suppose it’s mainly because I don’t think it would do any good – no company is going to listen to me are they? I don’t mean this on a personal level, but I am just a player and they have plenty of those without worrying about me. Still here I am and here is my letter to Turbine via their Community Manager, Sapience (aka @rickheaton). Now he’s a busy fella so I’ll get right to the point.

Dear Turbine,

I have loved LOTRO since I started in May 2011, enough that although it was my first ever experience with an MMO I gladly became a subscriber the following month. Since then I have played extensively and had an incredible time in the wonderful, beautiful world you have created and have happily spent several hundred pounds there in both subscription and store & Turbine Point purchases.

Yet now I find myself so upset by a single recent decision that I will not be renewing my subscription this year and I will not buy a single Turbine Point from your store again. I will do my utmost to ensure your company never has a penny of my money again.

Why you may (or may not) ask? What have we done to illicit such a strong negative response from you?

The answer is simple. The Update 6 premium wallet.

Now it is true that over December & January I grew sick of the grindy nature of the levelling & Legendary Item system, but I am not an idiot & I know that grinding is a part of pretty much all MMOs. No, it was not this that led me to my final decision.

It is also true that I have been looking around for a new MMO to play; from Star Trek to The Secret World to Guild Wars 2 I have been itching to try a new game, but never at the expense of LOTRO. Whilst I may not have endless hours of free time, I have enough to accommodate more than one game. Besides, my first love is always going to be Tolkien’s Middle Earth aand I have no intentions of giving that up.

Also don’t think I’m against the concept of in-game stores & micro-transactions: I’m not. You are a company. you need to make money to pay wages and develop games. I’m happy to pay for the service you provide in the full knowledge that your developers and staff can carry on making this and other games.

And please don’t imagine that I’m acting in anger over your recent “hiccups” in terms of communications and store items. Yes Isengard was messy; no I don’t care about stated items & even if the Landscape Solider was a total damp squib I don’t care as we all get things wrong. You are a games company & not a hospital and therefore when you get something wrong it is highly unlikely anyone will die.

No. What has so upset me is what I consider to be your totally unreasonable request that I pay 995 Turbine Points (that’s £10 to me here in the UK) for the convenience of using your new Premium Wallet feature. This is wrong.

As a subscriber I do not expect to be charged for an update to the game’s mechanics. This is not a storage expansion slot for my inventory or vault, this is extra functionality being added to an existing part of the game and that is what I expect my subscription to cover.

Now it is true that since you announced this wallet I will probably have received enough Turbine Points from you in the form of my 500 per month stipend to purchase this without spending another extra penny of my money, but I’m afraid that is not only not the point, it is simply not good enough. I do not like to be dictated to on how I spend my points, I do not like to feel forced in to a decision. They are my points, not yours and even though I have about 10,000 of them just sitting there I will not be told how I should spend them.

So even though I have the points. Even though I have the disposable income. Even though I have bought inventory, vault & wardrobe storage space from you in the past. And even though I have no need in the game for the wallet as reputation and barter items are not an issue for me, the decision to charge me £10 for this feature has so angered and upset me that I will not renew my subscription at the end of June this year and I feel certain I can foresee no circumstance in which I would subscribe to another game your company ever produces.

I say this as a calm and rational customer, not a febrile fanboy furious over the lore behind a bearded dragon. After all, I expect you to stare at my open wallet with naked hunger, I just don’t expect to find you trying to pick my pocket as well.