Saturday 27 March 2010

AoC: Demonologist at 20

Blue Gear:

I picked up my first blue quality gear during the Nighttime solo Tortage quests.

I got a High Priest's Necklace, a Robe of Apprenticeship and for some reason didn't get a blue weapon after killed Strom (I thought all classes got one here, ho hum).


By now there is only one spell worth casting - the feated Fires of Gehenna. Other spells do damage in different patterns but the Fires spell is so powerful and if you're fighting 3 mobs it's more useful to get one down fast than to spread damage evenly. Backing up a little will often manoeuvre mobs into position where they get splashed, as will switching target to the middle mob.

Fires does 175-195 Fire damage to a level 20 mob with an Incinerate dot that does 1-2 damage per stack and stacks up to 5. This means you kill them pretty consistently in 5 nukes.


Deeper Fires 5/5 +5% damage on Fires of Gehenna.

Fluidic Fires 5/5 Improves Fires of Gehenna with a splash effect that damages enemies near the primary target. +100% splash effect.

This is rather misleading. First Fires starts with a splash effect for about 50% unfeated. Also the effect doesn't become 100%: the main target is taking 180-215 the secondary target takes 119-135 (based on quite a small sample).

It definitely does more splash damage though as you develop it with Feat points.

It's clearly worse than the other option - straight fire damage - but I wanted to investigate it for this blog. It illustrates that Funcom's documentation on the tooltips still doesn't match the in-game effects even 2 years after release.

Amassed Flames. This is a + fire damage buff that quickly builds up 5 stacks and stays there as long as you're chain nuking (one per cast of Fires). The stack drops off completely if you don't cast Fires for 6 seconds. Damage goes up as you build the stack: 4.2, 8.5, 12.7, 17, 21.2 fire damage.

Friday 26 March 2010

AoC: Comedy in Conan

Most games overtly try to make you smile. "Time is money", grumble the goblins in WoW while the Ratonga in EQ2 squeal if they get their pawsie-wawsies dirty.

Age of Conan is a grim bloody world of betrayal and adult-themed moral uncertainty. And it is quite, quite, hilarious.

I was in Old Tarantia last night and a friend told me to come quick and see a character outside the tradepost. I ran over and saw a sinister figure, a lich with a cadaverous fleshless mien.

After we'd been gawping at him for a couple of minutes he unleashed his terible ire in a punishment worthy of legend.

He peed on me.

The piss emote in Conan was controvertially removed just after launch. I guess they felt it would be too traumatic for noobs to have 40 goons peeing on them at the ress point.

Clearly though GMs can still do it.

Here's a picture from the golden glory days when players could still light the darkness:

Here is a NPC model showing the correct way to process excess beer. Best MMO emote ever!

Other wonderful emotes include /emote fart (a white-knuckle clenched-teeth strainer) and /emote hugefish. The emotes are funnier because the game's look and feel is so grim and teutonic.

In addition to pissing ourselves laughing about that the game just lures you into laughing at it as it takes itself so seriously. Playing my Bear Shaman got us to produce a stream of puns, most of them unbearable. It's a shame, mon.

Bear with me.

I guess it's lucky I didn't play my ToS.

For our next adventure we are off to the Egyptian themed province of Khopshef where the friend I play with has already got himself in trouble with the local Cock Handler after he innocently spanked his cock. A cock in AoC gives one point of guild renown. It also gets you pulverised into a small bloody heap, some men are very sensitive about their cocks.

To spellchecker: pawsie-wawsies is a perfectly good word. Sod off.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

AoC: Demonologist at 10

The Demonologist is a mage class, a pure nuker. In keeping with the Conan worldview of wizards as evil you progress through various horrifically graphic methods of burning or electrocuting people and you can summon a demonic familiar.

It plays very enjoyably although it is mainly based on one button.

Here's a review of the performance at level 10.


There are three options - boost lightning spells, boost fire spells or develop general skills. I opted for fire.

My one feat point give me:
Deeper Fires 1/5 +1.5% damage to Fires of Gehenna (your main nuke)


Fires of Gehenna: 2 sec cast, range 25, 70-81 fire damage single target nuke with half damage splash to nearby targets. Inflicts a lingering Incinerate which stacks to 5 damage per second.

Hellfire Stream: 1 sec cast, 2 sec cooldown, range 20, 36-41 fire damage on target and everything between you and your target. This is better than Fires if you can target a ranged mob and have his melee friends run between you and your target.

Waves of Flame: a cone doing 34-39 damage per second for 5 seconds. This is quite wide and is the best option for multiple mobs that can be expected to stand in it (like 2 mobs running to melee you). On a single target it does less than Fires. Has a 4 second cooldown after it ends.

Demon Familiar: Summons a topless winged lady who helps you out by nuking your targets and boosts max mana of your group. Other spells give 2 cosmetic options.

Protection of Set: This is an hour long buff giving you a damage shield. The shield reduces each hit by 6 but collapses after absorbing 135 hit points. You get a new one every 25 seconds.


Just nuke stuff. It's all very easy this early in the game unless you pull spectacularly badly. You don't even need to optimise spell selection, just spam Fires while watching TV.

That doesn't mean it's not fun. The occasional spectacular fatality where some poor torched dude runs past you screaming makes it all worth while.

SWTOR: a dated development plan

Bioware seems to have made end-game a minor priority.

They have heavily emphasised story and one of the developers (admittedly a storyline developer) suggested in one of the hype videos that what you should do after playing through a storyline on one character is play through a different storyline on a new alt.

One of the recent developer video interviews suggests that the end game isn't really ready yet.

"What's the end-game going to be like?
Jake Neri: Hmm We've heard actually the last couple of days a lot of people have been asking about end-game. We haven't talked too much about that yet. We understand people want - and we need to have - an end-game. I think as time rolls on at we'll be bringing a lot of information about what that end-game will look like. I think the main thing that people can go away and rest assured is that we understand the need to have a compelling end-game."

That doesn't sound very ready. Look at his body language and the number of times he says "um" at that point of the interview. He doesn't seem comfortable with the question.

Now if it's not ready yet (about a year from release) then it won't be a substantial part of gameplay.

This is actually pretty similar to WoW's development. WoW at release just had Onyxia and Molten Core as raids which is just a dragon in a big room in one case and a genuine raid instance with some relatively basic boss encounters in the other. Not anything modern WoW players would really accept as an end game.

The problem is since 2004 the audience's tastes have changed.

In 2004 people expected a slow levelling game with raiding being a niche activity for a self-selecting hardcore.

In 2011 people will be expecting to power through the levelling up game then farm accessible raids.

I think they are using the 2004 WoW model as a guide to putting a game out and I think it may not suit the modern market.

Then again Blizzard are also using the 2004 WoW model for their planned re-invention of WoW (oh look, you can level up in revamped Stranglethorn Vale!). (Very much in the WoW expansion tradition of spoiling the competion: 2007 a hardcore raiding expansion released against Vanguard, 2008 a goth rvr expansion released against Warhammer, 2010 a level-up storyline expansion released against TOR). So 2011 may be a very interesting year for MMOs. Especially if large numbers of players reject both Cataclysm and TOR after burning though the level up content in a month.

Will we see subbing to a MMO for a month or two then abandoning it until the next expansion become the norm?

Monday 22 March 2010

AoC: Having a blast!

I'm playing Age of Conan now, some two years after I stalked off cursing Funcom's name.

I downloaded it again with an old friend who I've played games with since 1994 and played MMOs with since 2003. He plays DDO with me from time to time but I can't persuade him to play Eve.

The nice thing about both Eve and DDO is that they can take a back seat if something else takes my interest.

And AoC is doing just that.

Tortage is good. Not just good but quite possibly the best PVE questing in MMO gaming so far. Immersive voice-acted story with an exciting fast-paced plot heavy in duplicity.

In fact Tortage was so good it's one of the things that hurt the game early on. Psychologists speak of the contrast effect, where after experiencing something great something bland seems much more bland by contrast. Moving from Tortage to the kill ten rats (barbarians) quests that follow it invoked this in a way that rather hurt AoC.

The good news is that there's more content now  with more on the way.

More importantly many of the game-breaking bugs that hurt the playing experience in 2008 have been fixed as has the crash to desktop issue that plagued many of us back then. The game can be a little laggy and is very punishing on low end machines. My 1.8 quad core processor, 4 gig Ram and Radeon 4350 handles it fine but my friend's 2 year old PC really struggles to load the game. He's going to try a new graphics card.

Although gameplay is in many ways WoW like (progression through fedex and kill ten rats quests to max level then raiding and battlegrounds) it has a very distinctive look and feel. It has stunning combat animations as periodically your character will perform fatalities where you kill your target in various graphically horrible ways that are wonderful to watch. It has a directional combo system for melee which to be honest I'm somewhat indifferent to but which my friend loves. I do accept that it's more fun than tab target, turn on autoattack, 1,2,3.

PvP is brutal. In Europe there are 4 servers and 4 server types: PvE, PvP, RPPvE and RPPvP. We did a little shopping around and settled on the RPPvP one. We don't want full carebear but the PvP one is Gank Central and killing ten million rats to get to 80 would have been tortuous. Plus the RP element can be good fun.

Even on RPPvP you pretty much have to spend your feats (talents) for PvP survival. Particularly for me as I'm playing a Priest of Mitra and my friend is playing a Conqueror. Everyone always ganks the healer.

We had a look at our old high level characters but they were a bit too complex to play comfortably now that we've forgotten most of what we knew about playing. We also have the option to make a level 50 one time.

The trial is now not time limited so I do recommend people get the trial at least. If you want to play and are in Europe we're on Aquilonia (RPPvP) and we've joined a very friendly guild which would probably let you join too.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Progress Wars

Thanks to Scott Jennings for this game.

I'm level 10. I really wish I'd had this during the days of 40 minute tactical lectures in Serpentshrine Cavern.

Incidentally Scott is writing about social games which we discussed yesterday. It's a good article.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Whiny post day: Facebook, facebook everywhere

Water, water, everywhere nor any drop to drink.

The games industry's infatuation with Facebook hit new heights this week, with Raph Koster interviewing Gary Gannon on why hard core gamers should be excited about Facebook games.

We shouldn't.

Here's why:

- Facebook is a terrible platform for complex games. It's fine for simple games but core gamers have traditionally relied on every ounce of system performance for a game experience with great graphics, connectivity and performance. Playing a hardcore game on Facebook is like running a sprint with one of your shoes off.

- Facebook games are well known for having relied on psychological tricks. Core gamers know this and we're going to assume that if you're on facebook you're trying to scam us. If we don't see an obvious scam it means we'll assume you're doing it subtly. Even if an ethical game designer doesn't scam us someone will copy them and produce a similar game that harvests our friends for marketing data and attempts to get our mobile numbers so they can bill us for unwanted sms services.

- The bottom is about to drop out of the Facebook games industry. Traditionally it's been propped up by three things. Advertisers who think spamming millions of email addresses makes them money, numpties who give out their mobile numbers on the internet, and venture capitalists who fall for convincing 1999 dot com style patter about how wonderful this business model is. All of these things will decline at the same time as the number of developers entering the industry grows. More competition for less money.

- Pretty soon everyone who uses the internet is going to have a real email/facebook account and a dummy one for receiving all their spam or playing games. This will really hurt the facebook business model.

- Facebook works because it's free. Players don't see value in these games they see value for money. Free is not in the medium term a sustainable business model. You can't go on forever expecting people who aren't the player to pay for players to play your game.

- Game designers like Facebook games because they are cheap to make while the rest of the industry is making very expensive games. It's good for the designers. However the decision rests with the players, we decide what we will be doing with our money and it won't be paying top prices for cheaply made games. Even if we were willing to pay a lot we wouldn't have to - the 20 000 other guys trying to make the same game as you will be undercutting you.

- At their best Facebook games are just recycling really old ideas. I played Populous 20 years ago, I don't want to play it again just because a clone released on Facebook. Are there any Facebook games at all with genuinely innovative gameplay?

- Hardcore gamers are very comfortable with running multiple applications. We don't need a Facebook game to socialise with our friends and guildies. It's normal for PC MMO gamers to have some kind of IM service as well as voice comms from third parties. Even in games where the integrated voice software is excellent (Eve, DDO) people generally prefer to use third party apps.

- Gamers find out about games from other gamers. Gamers sustain interest in a game because of other gamers. No gamers have been posting to say how excited we are about playing our MMOs on Facebook. Developers are excited about this because it makes it much cheaper to produce games but players aren't. That's crucial - attempts to lead players where they don't want to go fail as soon as players have an alternative (eg forced grouping).

- MMOs won't stay expensive to produce. A lot of the current cost is because every MMO-maker starts from scratch. At some point in the next ten years people will be making MMO engines and art available for fans to mod and build themselves and there will be an explosion of MMO creativity.

Friday 12 March 2010

WoW: still struggling to fix arseholes

WoW's dungeon finder has generally been regarded as a success, bringing people together for groups quickly and effectively. Obscure dungeons that would have been hard to run before now can be done and people can make instancing their main activity.

However the runs have been plagued by antisocial players.

The problem is people remember the idiots to a disproportionate extent. If you run 5 dungeons and the last run includes a player who leaves you fuming you have overall had a bad experience even though you met 20 strangers only one of whom was irritating.

The upcoming WoW patch tinkers with the mechanisms available to players for coping with arseholes.

Yeah it just takes one person to press Need after everyone's pressed Greed on the Frozen Orbs and you miss out. But the good news is that in patch 3.3.3 this won't be the case anymore -- the roll for Frozen Orbs will be an automatic Greed roll. Rejoice!

Dungeon Finder

* The Deserter debuff given to players who leave a dungeon prematurely when queuing via the Random Dungeon option has been increased to 30 minutes, up from 15 minutes. The cooldown for using the Random Dungeon option remains 15 minutes.
* The Random Dungeon cooldown is no longer displayed as a debuff. Instead, players will see the cooldown time remaining displayed in the Dungeon Finder window when Random Dungeon or Random Heroic Dungeon is selected from the pull-down.
* If a player in your party has the Deserter debuff, or is on cooldown from the Random Dungeon option, his or her character name will be displayed in the Dungeon Finder window listed as "On Cooldown," preventing the group from queuing.
* Anyone in a dungeon party can now re-queue their group for a dungeon, as players will still be prompted whether or not to accept their chosen role.
* Players who use the Vote Kick option will now be prompted to provide a reason for kicking a party member. This reason will be presented to everyone in the party except for the person voted to be kicked.
* When joining as a group, more generous level requirements will be used instead of Random Dungeon level requirements so that players of different levels joining together will be eligible for a greater number of dungeons.
* Parties randomly created via the Dungeon Finder will always be arranged in the party interface from top to bottom in the following order: tank, healer, damage, damage, damage.
* If a random party is created via the Dungeon Finder and a player cannot roll Need on an item, a reason will now be provided.

On the face of it these changes are more punitive to quitters and assist people who are trying to get someone vote kicked.

However they can be gamed in fairly obvious ways.

For instance since people who quit are punished the objective if you don't want to continue becomes to force other people to quit. You could train mobs onto the group or just afk and people might be forced to give up (incurring the 30 minute penalty and leaving you free to join another run).

Getting someone vote kicked might become merely a matter of providing a convincing reason. Calling someone a ninja and proposing a kick (even if you've never seen them before in your life) will probably work.

What WoW needs in my opinion as a long time pugger is a karma system like Ebay's ratings. If the people who play with you can leave feedback there's a real incentive to be honest.

Until they do that they're just inventing new ways for creative griefers to mess up group play.

Saturday 6 March 2010

MMOs: Explaining real life

The BBC has published a story and a video interview on its website looking at how Eve Online teaches us about managing real world economies.

OK, it's time to get a grip people.

Games are at best inexact metaphors for real situations. A market crash in Eve may be superficially like a market crash in the real world but it's a huge leap to go from there to saying that Eve can teach us about real economies.

Let's look at the ways in which market behaviour is different in Eve as opposed to real life:

- it's a GAME. People are doing things that they would never do with their career, with their life savings, with their national economies.

- isk is not real money. People will gamble around with their game money because it has a totally different value to real money. Most notably your isk means nothing once you get bored with the game unlike real money which will be of value your whole life and can then be bequeathed to heirs.

People willingly invest in dubious schemes in Eve. In fact every financial scheme in Eve is dubious for a number of reasons including the game deliberately encourages an atmosphere of distrust, you are not hurting people by taking isk away as you would if you took their life savings away, the person you trust is an avatar that can be sold without you knowing to someone else and so on.

In real life people don't knowingly invest in Ponzi schemes. In Eve it's part of the fun, throw a few billion in while the Ponzi is building, extract it when the Ponzi peaks, chuckle at the people who got burnt while counting your billions when it all crashes. Scamming the scammers.

- it's nothing like a real world economy. People make items to sell just because they like making stuff, many items are cheaper than their raw materials. Many producers value the ore they mine and the time they spend transporting goods at zero. Mineral prices are protected by the isk payouts people get for making ships then blowing them up, the entire economy is underwritten by insurance fraud.

OK, but perhaps we're not being fair, let's look at the video and see what important lesson for managing real world economies the Eve universe can teach us:

"what Eve has taught us about how to deal with the current crisis in the real world I would say that the biggest lesson is transparency and trust in the individual in the sense that we need to trust individuals to make the right decisions."
Dr Gudmundsson, BBC News, from 1.33 in the linked video.

Now hold on just a minute.

The recent banking crisis was not caused by lack of transparency. It was pretty much an open secret in banking for some time before the crash that the system was going wrong because of a tragedy of the commons type situation. Bankers were getting bonuses based on making a lot of loan deals. The people supervising them were getting bonuses based on their staff making a lot of loan deals. The best way for any individual to meet his or her targets was to drop standards. Loans that would once have been refused because the lender's projected income would not keep up with the repayments were accepted. Collateral that would have been considered inadequate was passed. Each individual knew this was bad business but if they baulked at acting in this way the guys in the adjacent cubicles would make more loans, would get the bonuses, would avoid the sack.

This is not a transparency issue. Everyone knew what was going on.

This is not an issue that could be solved by trusting individuals. In this situation it is in the rational self-interest of the individual employed by the bank to make sub-prime loans and get a fat bonus. People who baulk would get sacked and replaced by people who won't baulk because their managers also want to hit their targets and get their bonuses.

So the key thing highlighted as being something Eve can teach us about real life is just plain wrong.

I'm not saying that everything in games is not mirrored in real life. Monopoly teaches us that staying in hotels in Mayfair is expensive, this is a pretty solid lesson.

However most of what games teach us is either bleeding obvious or wrong.

So why do academics find virtual worlds so fascinating?

It's partly the vested interest of academia.

Look if I say I will pay a yearly stipend to anyone investigating whether black is actually grey some people will simply say no it isn't and not get paid, some will take my money and do research.

In the same way if an academic says that an "instantaneous price change in Eve" such as tons of people buying a moon chemical after an announcement of a patch change in the way moons function is a significant example of how real world economics work they will get paid where the guy saying "so what?" won't.

Once you have a system where people are paid to rationalise then the rationalisations will trend towards the lines of thought that encourage new research grants.

This isn't simply pure cynicism: if you have a lot of very clever people explaining how black is actually kind of grey in many ways eventually your inner bullshit detector will fail and you'll start to see their point.

It's what's happening in virtual world academia. A lot of very clever people are articulating about how what happens in virtual worlds explains real life and people are increasingly buying into it.

Even to the point where a usually intelligent man is suggesting solving the banking crisis by trusting bankers (surely amongst the least trustworthy people) based on his experience of Eve players (undoubtedly the least trustworthy bunch of MMOers out there).