Thursday, 31 March 2011

I can Pencil the Bandit Raid in for Next Tuesday

Thought this was particularly amusing and so had to repost it. On a thread about how GW2 may have too many dynamic events:

Originally Posted by Meowhead  -
If they had a realistic rate of encounters, that would be a damn boring game.

'It's been about 2 years since the last bandit excursion, it's taken that long for them to regroup, recruit new members and elect a new leader'
'Since we wiped out the wolves, we've had to have a very careful endangered species preservation act. Now that 50 years have passed, the wolf population is up to snuff! Feel free to kill more again!'

It's be very, very long periods of admiring the pretty flowers, and the occasional fight. Once every week or so. Hope you're logged on when it happens! :D

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

From Dust - Tech Demo Video

This looks like a really interesting game, kinda like Black and White meets civ/settlers. I shall trawl the web for more info!

From Dust Website

Monday, 28 March 2011

The Sylvari Redesign: Taking a Leaf out of Guru's Book

One of the largest threads on GW2Guru's Tyrian Assembly board is the one focused upon the redesign of the Sylvari. Every player seems to have an idea of what they want (and do not want) the race to end up looking like. The original Sylvari design gave them an appearance which very much reflected the innocence of their character:

Notice: childlike appearance, "Elf" like pointed ears and green complexion.Whilst I see why ANet went down this route, I believe that they can do far more with the race than simply depicting them as "green elves" or "children" of Guild Wars 2, which is what I see above. Whilst the Sylvari are essentially a "new" race in Tyria, they are borne from the Pale Tree with all the working wisdom of their race and I think this needs to be communicated in their appearance.

There are several routes ANet could go down with the redesign, each with their benefits and their downsides:

Make them more "Planty"

Perhaps Avatar of Melandru
could act as inspiration?

This is an idea I really like. In order to distinguish them from humans it might be a nice idea to play on their horticultural origins and give them a far more plant based look than before. With branches and leaves for hair, and stems and shoots growing from the skin, they would be a truly unique MMO race - one which would stand out amongst all the dark elves, dwarves and goblins out there. Quoting Kymeric:

As far as innocence goes, I don't see the need to make them look like wide-eyed children. In fact, I like the tension between something that looks woody and gnarled, but is innocent in heart and mind... A race that looks as ancient as the tree they were born from would make it interesting when they are actually childlike and filled with wonder.

There is, however, a balance to be found - it would be difficult to fit armour over all those branches and twigs. Similarly, we already have a decent description of the Sylvari from Ghosts of Ascalon and Edge of Destiny, so we can't stray too far.

Make them more "Nightmare Courty"

Look at me, I'm a badass.

One of the most interesting elements of the Sylvari culture is the shady Nightmare Court. The Sylvari are guided by dreams and visions from the Pale Tree, within these dreams there also exists nightmares. These nightmares go largely unexplained by the Sylvari - the Nightmare court embrace the nightmares and attempt to understand them. Their embracing of this terrible way of life corrupts the Sylvari who choose to join the Nightmare Court, and their appearance is suitably changed.

Some players have asked whether some of the concept art for the Nightmare Court might act as inspiration for the Sylvari redesign. Giving them a wholly more dark and gothic feel.

Whilst it might be interesting; there are obvious problems with this suggestion. There is a need to visually distinguish the Sylvari from the Nightmare court, in the same way as we need to distinguish the Sons of Sanvir from the regular Norn. Without this distinction, it would be difficult to tout the Nightmare Court as truly corrupted. They might appear to be nothing more than Sylvari with a different point of view.

Make them more "Elfy"

Ever got halfway through a forest walk
and realise you've forgotten your trousers?
The Elves have been a staple of fantasy stories since Tolkien said "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if there were people who were like humans, right? But better. And with pointy ears". The original Sylvari design was pretty "elfy" to begin with, and a number of players are hoping that ANet haven't totally axed the Elf root entirely. I can see the attraction, the standard fantasy elf has a great deal in common with the Sylvari - an innocence, a connection with nature and a lithe, quick and lean air about them.

The Sylvari could easily be akin to "Wood Elves" or even "High Elves" of Elder Scrolls fame.

ANet have always cleverly danced around the subject of Elves in the past and I've always respected them for that. I believe that going further down the Elf route would be a bit of a cop-out. I hope that ANet have balls enough to do something a little more daring and not pander to the crowd (plus, can you imagine the Charr on Sylvari Elf-porn? No thanks).

Make them more "Bowie"

Have you seen his codpiece in Labyrinth?
Just kidding.

That would be awesome though, right?

In the end, the new Sylvari design is likely to be an amalgamation of all of these ideas, at least I hope. Players have come up with some really interesting and innovative ideas for the race over the past few months, from TedTheShred's pollen roots whereby the race would have a constant pollen trail leading into the ground to symbolise their link to the Pale Tree, to Ammanelle's photosynthesis depicting flowers and leaves opening up on their skin whilst under the sun to invigorate the Sylvari with greater health regeneration. ANet would do well to listen to their community as they consider where they want to go with the race, they have a real opportunity to do something very exciting with them, I hope they don't pass it up. 

Friday, 25 March 2011

Chore Wars: I shall Slay the Great Bin Beast

You should see our lair. It's a complete mess. I say lair because, upon stumbling across this festering mass of destruction, you might be forgiven for assuming it is the home of some troll or possibly a swamp beast. Dishes left unwashed, dust collecting on the surfaces, the bins slowly and slowly building until placing any more rubbish in them would probably contravene several elements of the Geneva convention.

Thankfully, whilst reading through Reality is Broken, I've been pointed in the direction of Chore Wars. Now conquering the great mountain of washing will be a quest, tackling the ogre that lives in our bathroom (the "loo" - as the villagers call him) will be an adventure we shall face together and of course I'll rack up points like nobodies business because I do all the cooking. Score.

Chore Wars turns everyday household jobs into MMO style quests; you gain exp, battle monsters and find treasure. You can create your adventurers and form your party (The Great and Glorious Guild of Ceej and Will) and invite your friends/housemates/coworkers to join, then you create your own adventures. I've assigned cooking dinner 45xp whereas making a drink only gives 5xp; cleaning the bathroom might give 60xp but there is also the chance you might encounter a tentacle beast or a water elemental. As you complete tasks you log them online and gain the revelent experience points - as with any MMO you level up, find treasure and hopefully your flat becomes clean in the process. It's an ARG in its purest form.

I cannot freaking wait to get home and do the washing up.  

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Guild Wars: The Challenges that Remain

There is no doubt about it; with the release of the hero cap and the introduction of mercenary heroes the monsters of Tyria are really taking a beating. There isn't a zone which isn't currently taking a thorough thrashing by teams of Ritualists and Mesmers c-spacing their way to victory amid a cloud of dust, blood and experience points.
So proud when I got this!
Ah - those heady days of Yore

Similarly, with the changes to the "Survivor", "Legendary Defender of Ascalon" and "Drunkard" titles, a lot of players who might not have thought it possible are now considering a run on the "God Walking Amongst Mere Mortals" title. GWAMM being one of the highest PvE accomplishments a player can achieve in Guild Wars; it is astounding to stand in Lion's Arch and watch the many many messages of "John Smithington has achieved God Walking Amongst Mere Mortals - the Gods have extended their blessing" - "Smith Johnington has achieved God Walking... blah blah blah" cycle past the chatlog.

So - what remains for the intrepid Guild Wars adventurer? What challenges do we still face? How do we keep the game fresh and interesting when some of the hardest content in the game can be completed by a gnat with severe brain deformities?

The answer is challenges we create for ourselves. Engineering builds and vanquishing areas using only core skills. Finding ways to solo entire explorable zones (Witte Was stylee). Doing elite areas without consumables, PvE skills or advantageous title effects. Etc.

It is up to us as a community to work to keep the game alive, there is only so much we can lump on the developers if we ourselves let our game fall into misuse. All the devs do is give us an environment in which to play. The game only exists as long as there are people to play it, and so the game itself is defined by those players. As long as we are enthusiastic, imaginative, creative, inquisitive and most of all excited about Guild Wars then we can continue to enjoy it to its fullest.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Rift: To Play or not to Play

I'm on the edge of a precipice, or so it feels. It's the same feeling I get whenever I start a major new MMO. I felt it when I started Aion, when I dabbled in WoW and even a little bit when I tried DC Universe Online. If I commit myself, I spend the money on the game, pay for a month, spend 3 hours downloading and installing the stuff, 5 hours queueing to get into a server and then if it all falls flat - well, then I'd feel like a right plonka.
The blogosphere around which I orbit has been a'buzz with Rift information for the past few weeks and I can't help but feel like I'm missing out on something new and exciting. Unfortunately, for every good review I get, there is a bad one. Now, I'm a fairly level headed guy and I know that I should take most reviews with a pinch of salt, but when the evidence is so conflicting it's difficult for me to make up my own mind.

I was speaking with TashaDarke earlier today and she explained it thus:

Think the Guild Wars profession system (you get 3 which you can change at will) and Guild Wars 2′s dynamic events & grouping (has a few issues but that’s another blog post), with Aion’s looks and WoW-post-Cataclysm feel & crafting. Its not better than other MMOs, its just a less broken system than the others.
Tasha's assertion is supported by other reviews:

Generally speaking this game plays virtually identically to warcraft, even to things like the menu options to switch on extra bottom and right hand menu bars!
I tried the game because I dont like where warcraft has ended up, I prefer a more perenial immersive sandbox experience, rather than spoon fed button mashing repetition experience. But this game is so similar to wow its ridiculous. (Unfortunately all developers seem to be desperate to emulate warcraft and so are all of this ilk).

And so if you love warcraft, you will like this.... but erm hey warcraft has years of content under its belt so erm.... just play warcraft instead.
It's inevitable that most popular P2P MMOs (and MMOs in general) will be compared with the big Daddy of them all. WoW has taken the MMO genre to its highest level yet and many a game designer could learn a lot from the tomes in Blizzard's dusty halls. I also understand that a lot of the old school WoWers are looking to Rift to be a replacement to what they view to be a severely broken game. Consequently, if Rift is going to be trying to tap into the disillusioned WoW player demographic (a big one, I'm sure) then I'm confident that it will flourish at first - although I don't have much faith that it'll nab many real loyal fans.

I think my main concern about Rift is that it doesn't appear to be adding anything new to the MMO genre, and I'm not sure I should reward this cowardice with my playtime and my hard earned moolah. I'll probably give it a few months for the dust to settle and to find out what the players think about the game in it's entirety.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Taking the Pee outta PvP: ANet's WvWvW

Nowadays we are spoilt for player vs player gaming. Not much more than 7/8 years ago the majority of games were primarily single player, with the possibility of multiplayer (if you had an additional controller or friends who were willing to cart their xbox and an extra telly over to your house and remember all the cables). Multiplayer was an addition to the single player campaign, I played Medal of Honor through without "pwning" anyone but Nazis. I played Black and White online once but my creature made friends with the enemies' monkey and we agreed to kiss and make up. Good times.

With ArenaNet keeping suspiciously quiet about how their WvWvW player vs player instances will work, I've been thinking about my experiences in the multiplayer online arena and how my absolutely ideal PvP games would work.

Objective Based Gameplay
Some people like to drop themselves into an arena and just hit their opponent. These people play Team Deathmatch on Black Ops and Random Arenas in Guild Wars. I totally understand the need to taste the blood of thine enemy, but when it comes to the crunch, I'd much rather play Domination or Jade Quarry. Objectives add an extra spice to PvP, in many games you get praise for being an "objective player" as opposed to a "kill-whore" who just hunts enemy players. I'd like a PvP system which rewards both of these types of play, but encourages objective-based players. For example:
Perhaps we could have an arena with strategic outposts to capture (in strategically advantageous positions or applying advantages to the side which holds it). Obtaining and controlling these outposts would give the players points (it's important to reward not just capturing the point, but also defending it). Players would easily get their fix of death and destruction whilst battling to an outpost and whilst defending it, but more strategic "objective" players can fill their boots with identifying key outposts and capturing/defending them.

It's also important that the outposts mean something. This was a problem I had with Alliance battles; from a lore standpoint, I couldn't see why we were capturing the points. In Jade Quarry, we were making sure that our turtles could mine Jade from the seabed, in Fort Aspenwood we were breaking down the defenses of a Kurzick stronghold in order to stop them producing their final weapon. In AB we captured points because... well, because the game said we had to. In my ideal PvP there would be a justification for us fighting to the top of a hill to capture a shrine or a windmill etc. Perhaps us fighting to the entrance of a mine would allow our catapults to reload faster due to a more abundant supply of boulders for yacking?

Ongoing Struggle
I'd like my battles to feel like they mean something, not just for my stats or for the thrill of victory, but for my actions to have a lasting impression on the battlefield. In the traditional "arena" type battles, you fight your enemy, perhaps you win, perhaps you lose and when the dust settles all you have to show is a certain number of points (depending upon whether you won or not). There is no lasting impression and all your hard work doesn't really mean anything once the timer runs down.

ANet have promised large scale World vs World battles with ongoing battles which players can drop in and out of. This sounds exactly what I'm looking for. I like the idea of an expansive battlefield, which could house large scale battles and sieges, but also allow for small groups of players to employ flanking and stealth tactics to gain ground behind the enemy lines (this would really utilise the Thief/Ranger's stealth abilities). For example:

World A are sieging World B's fortress, B are holding strong but they can't last forever, they are being picked off slowly and they are having trouble finding the resources to keep the gate repaired. B send out a group of Thieves to flank the enemy and capture a nearby watermill to help increase production and get their catapults/gates back up to full functionality. The flanking group are able to sneak past the sieging forces and capture the mill, but in doing so World A's army becomes aware that they have escaped, sending their own counter force out to recapture the outpost. Now, having had to split their forces, A's army is weakened and B are able to push them further back from their walls.
That kind of flowing battle awareness would be far more exciting than the long slogs of the Aion fortress captures or pinning the enemy in their base in Guild Wars' Alliance Battles. Over time, World B might push World A further and further back - different players dropping in here and there and employing different strategies each time (capturing cliffsides to gain a height advantage, setting traps and lying in wait for their enemy - see my Mesmer post for my ideas on this!). Players would feel empowered because their decision to come up with an inventive strategy might have a real impact upon the outcome of the war.

Skill Based Gameplay
Guild Wars did a brilliant job of removing the advantage given by "epic gear" or having a higher level. I understand that you can still create a PvP character that will be on equal terms with other players in the arena and I'm glad ANet haven't abandoned the level playing field entirely despite the higher level cap in Guild Wars 2. Success in Guild Wars 1 PvP revolved around having a better build, knowing how to use it and playing a tactically better game than the opponent.

The most "serious" I ever got in GW PvP was playing ladder matches in Hero Battles (I was in the top 200! Although only like 2000 people ever played it). In HB you directed your 3 AI controlled heroes to shrines and attempted to outplay and out maneuver your opponent and his heroes. A lot of players didn't like HB because it resembled too closely the AI controlled elements of PvE - but those who played it knew it was actually an incredibly strategic game. You needed to know which of your heroes could survive against/kill which of your opponents heroes - you needed to learn when to back off and concede a shrine and when to rush and collapse on a single unwitting hero.

I liked HB because you knew that every other player had exactly the same tools available to them as you did, but you played a better game. You ran your heroes better than him and planned your tactics more efficiently. Your victories weren't as a result of your luck in getting "uber blue gold helmet drops" it was because you outplayed them. It was less WoW, more Chess.

So, there it is. Objectives, Strategy and Equality. My three tenets of a good PvP battle. I'm hoping that ANet have adhered to at least a couple of them in their new formats, Aion almost got there, but their fortress sieges were just gank fests and the "Abyss" was just a PvE area with roving bands of angry Asmodians...
Ultimately, if ANet can create a PvP environment which feels flexible and immersive, then I'll be a happy Sylvari.

Or Norn.
Or Asura.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Wisdom of Seananners: Part 2

I love this guy, he has so many youtube followers and he uses his fame to teach teenage gamers that they don't need to act like assholes all the time. I think that there is an unfortunate negative stereotype which is attached to gamers, as reclusive sociopaths, stuck in basements and bedsits - roleplaying and "pwning n00bs" for a living. Its a stereotype which is supported by both gamers and non-gamers alike. In a way a lot of us just accept the stigma that is attached and either live with it or hide our gaming like some kind of secret shame. Gaming is our crossdressing, and we'll hide it away until one day we are caught by the "norms" trussed up in our stockings and suspenders, pouting in front of the mirror.

Seananners is using his place as a well known gamer to spread a really wholesome and uplifting message. The main reason he has so many subscribers on YouTube (currently 655,007!) is not because he is an awesome CoD player, its because he is so down to earth.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Mesmer's "Hook"

Now that the second adventurer profession has been released (the Thief - just in case you aren't into Guild Wars, or you are an have had your head firmly lodged up a large animals back passage for the past week) the Guild Wars 2 community train has once again stopped at speculation station, shoveling information coal into our logic based steam engine, taking on idea passengers and creating rather stretched and stilted metaphors about outmoded forms of transport. Choo choo!

The community has largely agreed on at least one thing: we are getting a Mesmer. The Mesmer is one of the more complex professions in the first game focusing on using interupts, hexes and energy denial to turn their enemies skills and attacks against them. There's a whole host of concepts, literary references, pictures and ideas which support the claim. There is little point in me listing the evidence here, really, we all know its coming and we know its just a few weeks (months?) away.

What will be truly interesting will be the "hook" that ANet choose to assign to the Mesmer. By this, I mean the defining characteristic or mechanic which sets the class apart from the others: for the Warrior it was adrenaline, for the Elementalist it was attunements, for the Ranger its the pet, for the Necromancer its death shroud, the Guardian has virtues and the Thief has initiative. Each of these mechanics complement the profession's skills perfectly, and should allow each class to perform certain roles better than any of the other classes.

Each profession's "hook" is comparable to a primary attribute in the first game; a trait that only that single profession could utlitise. Primary attributes were very important in the first game, because when any class can use any skill (if their secondary profession would allow it) there needed to be a way to ensure not every player in the game would just run the most powerful elementalist build or whatnot. In GW1 the Mesmer's primary attribute was Fast Casting - an attribute which decreased the cast and recharge time of Mesmer spells considerably, allowing the Mesmer to quickly throw out powerful spells one after another.

I can't imagine Fast Casting making its way over the precipice between GW1 and GW2. It doesn't feel like it fits with the overall ethos of the game - strategic and thoughtful combat. I can imagine Mesmers having the ability to slot in traits which might decrease cast time on their spells and such, but in a game where all of the professions are very mobile and active during combat, I can't see Fast Casting as coming as much of an advantage. Also, I'd like to think that ANet is more imaginative than that.

Here's just a few ideas:

Illusory Visages

The Mesmer has the ability to create 2 or 3 illusions of themselves which last 30 seconds. They move and cast and look almost exactly like the player (perhaps surrounded by a purple/pinkish glow when up close - or even with luminescent eyes!), when you target them they can be attacked just like the player but they die after 2/3 strikes - disappearing in a puff of smoke. They are limited in their skill bar (possibly to one or two skills) which do minimal damage but still keep up the facade that they are the player. After one visage is killed there is a 30 second timer before you can summon them again.
The player would be able to equip traits to increase their damage, health or even possibly give the player the ability to summon an extra visage. (This is inspired by Queen Jennah's actions at the end of Edge of Destiny)

Illusion of Haste

The Mesmer could have the ability to move at +50% movement speed for 8 seconds - leaving a visage of themselves behind and trailing a purple haze in their wake. Before the end of the timer the player could choose to warp back to their original position or to stay at their new location. If they chose to warp back to their original position, a similar visage would be left at the location they warped from. The visages would stay active for 5 seconds after the end of the timer and would be subject to similar rules as the illusions in my first suggestion (except I don't think they would attack). The Mesmer could slot traits to increase the timer length, reduce the recharge on the skill or the increase the health of the visages created (This is inspired by the Mesmer's Illusion of X skills in GW1).

Mirage Cloak

The Mesmer could create shimmering barriers on the ground behind which all players are obscured. Mobs and enemy players standing on one side of the barrier would see just a shimmering wall and the landscape behind, whereas the wall could in fact be cloaking any number of characters. Before placing it, the Mesmer could choose to bend the wall - not all the way round but around 45 degrees - in order to obscure themselves from further angles, or to spread it out straight to obscure over a wider area. This would be really interesting for creating ambushes and luring enemies into traps - as long as the AI would recognise that players behind the wall were not visible. The wall would not be impenetrable and any player or monster could just walk through it. The Mesmer could slot traits to increase the length of the wall or increase its duration (this is inspired by any movie where an army of hideous monsters has walked through an ephemeral wall - see Stargate).

Obviously, these are ideas are a bit off the wall - but that's what we are looking for, right? RIGHT?... right.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

I'm a Player and I'm Proud

I chaired a meeting today for the first time and, sitting at the table and looking around at their expectant faces, I couldn't help but feel: I'm totally not qualified to do this.

I mean, I am - I suppose. Its all on paper, I've got the qualifications and letters after my name (William Knight MA (hons) - in case you're wondering *breathes on nails, shines on shirt*); but I can't help but feel that in any real world situation I'm just kinda loafing it. It's a feeling I've discussed with several people and I've discovered that this is a fairly universal quality in normal people. You're confident, but not arrogant, firm but fair and give off an air that you've got it all under control. But just under the surface you've always got the sneaking suspicion that at some point someone is going to turn to you and go:

"You there! Yes... you! You have absolutely no idea what you are doing!"

And you'll fall to your knees and concede its all been an elaborate ruse, you are in fact, just a dude, and you still play video games and role play online, you aren't qualified to take blood, arrange mergers, save lives or negotiate divorce settlements, in fact you're barely capable of dressing yourself in the morning without doing that thing with your trousers (one leg in, OK - here's the next leg - ready? ready? GO! NO, don't get it caught on the crotch, steady yourself, steady!... oh look, you've fallen onto the bed).

There is a point to this post, I promise. I'm getting to it. There's just some fluff I need to move out of the way first.

The only area I don't get this crushing feeling of inadequacy is whilst I'm gaming.

I know that if I stick the Black Ops disc in my Playstation I have a damn good chance of getting into a game and completely dominating the opposition. I feel I can run into a crowd and unleash hell, dodge bullets, flash enemies and completely humiliate them. I've had my fair share of poor games, been beaten any number of times and I've come through the other end.

Similarly, if I enter a Jade Quarry battle in Guild Wars I can be pretty sure I can hold down the green quarry versus 2 or 3 caster opponents - I can reliably interrupt 3/4 cast time spells and out-kite any melee. I know that if I go onto GWguru I can answer most of the questions people might have, and I can give damned good advice. I've been playing pretty solidly for 5 years and I can, without hesitation, say that I am a Guild Wars expert.

If I get beaten, I'm more than willing to accept the consequences and acknowledge I lost to a superior player. It isn't arrogance, it's the result of hard work and a love of gaming.

Over the past few days I've been dipping in and out of J McGonigal's "Reality is Broken". So far, McGonigal has blown me away with the enthusiasm she conveys through the book. One of the most important messages she is trying to convey is that the strategies and methods we employ in gaming should be useful in every day life, and if they were, then the real world would be a far more compelling place.
By supplanting gaming mechanisms into every day life we could wash away the feeling that we are loafing our way to the top - always ignoring the dread that some day someone will realise what idiots we really are. If we can harness the enormous effort each one of us put into getting that next title, or finally farming that rare skin and channel it into real world problems - the world could be changed dramatically.

ps. I'm thoroughly enjoying Reality is Broken so far, and I suggest, if you're interested in video games, ARGs and gaming in general, that you give it a go. I'll be writing up a full article once I've finished the book. There are some really exciting ideas in this book.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Dear ANet: I hate you

Dear ANet,

Are you freaking kidding me? I mean, are you actually joking? I could have handled it if the pistols created a sound akin to a pea shooter (ala DC Universe Online). But they sound like blunderbusses, blasting out hot molten fragments of joy:

I mean, the Ranger might still have stood a chance if they couldn't use bows... or even if their uses of bows was laboured and thrown in to appease the old school ninja fans. Instead, they fire explosives? Like Rambo?! What are you trying to pull? This isn't fair. I'm a Ranger through and through... he's so cute; just look at him... all tiny and harmless and then wham explosives in your face! And he uses the bow to shadow step! To shadow step, people!

Perhaps their melee damage will be lacklustre and uninteresting, yeah, that'll do it - then I can retreat back to the safe haven of the Ranger. But no - your mockery is relentless. Shazam, Leaping Death Blossom. I mean, I saw it in the video which Rubi had posted - but, but... its so beautiful. These guys didn't stand a chance:

Oh yeah, and thanks for bringing back childhood nightmares of watching Home Alone - remember that bit where the the fat one in the Wet Bandits steps on a nail?

I want to do that to people. I want that. It's so deliciously vindictive.

Then, the coup de gras... the predator-esque stealth mode. I'll be stalking my enemies, and they'll be all like
"he's in the trees..." 
and then the other guy will be all
"no, he IS the trees..." 
and then one of them will shout


By that point, its too late... no amount of rippling muscles smothered in mud or bamboo spikes will stop me. I'll snap the first guys left leg off below the knee and use it to beat his friends to death.

I hate you ANet. You've just made my profession choice that much harder.

Kindest regards,


Thursday, 10 March 2011

A Sneaky Peak: The GW2 Thief

ANet have tantilisingly dangled a few images of the upcoming thief release to us today:

Oh lordy - read the entire article here:

Skin-Tight-Black-PVC. Thats all I have to say on the matter.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Fewer Attributes: More Freedom

A while back I came across a thread on GW2guru which was attempting to predict the stats of the remaining professions by plotting where each point would be placed on the attribute board. For example, the original poster postulated that each professions would be able to slot 6 points over each of the attributes we were aware of at the time (Strength, Agility, Perception, Intelligence, Vitality and Willpower). So, the Warrior class would slot 2 points into Strength, 2 into Vitality, 1 into Agility and 1 into Perception. The poster then went on to say that you could attempt to predict what composition the new profession would present by looking at which set up of attribute spread hadn't been covered yet and using a bit of logic (Assassin - or Thief - would present with 1 in Strength, 2 in Agility, 2 in Perception and 1 in Willpower).

At the time I bought into the way this system seemed to be working, but it did always strike me as somewhat clunky. Perception would obviously be a well sought after attribute - criticals are vital in Guild Wars (and other games, just look at Aion and their characters slotting nothing but Crit Chance modifiers on their armour). Intelligence and Willpower were obviously the more caster-based attributes, but Willpower always came over as the weaker of the two (any decent Guild Wars player knows that having effective energy management is better than having a larger energy pool). What really bugged me was the separation of Strength, Intelligence and Agility. This made an arbitrary distinction between Melee and Ranged damage - it complicated things past the pure idea of what the attribute should be about - "Damage".

Izzy Cartwright recognised this problem in his latest post at the ANet blog:

You could make a warrior carrying a sword and bow in your two weapon slots, which was not uncommon for players to want. Unfortunately, if you split your attribute points between strength and agility, you were less effective overall than someone who carried two melee or ranged weapons and specialized appropriately... The other problem we found was that this system limited experimentation and discovery. We want players to have fun trying out new weapons. If a player with a warrior locates a rifle, we want them to enjoy testing out its different skills and possibly working it into their active weapon set. We discovered this experimentation isn’t nearly as much fun if you didn’t spend your attributes properly to take advantage of this new weapon.
I know that when the game hits the ground I am going to want to run a character who uses both a ranged and a melee weapon (I'm hoping for dual pistols/sword and offhand) and I would much rather be able to do decent damage with both rather than having to heavily spec into one and then be gimped with the other.

Later in his post, Izzy reveals the new attribute system - far more streamlined and manageable than the spectrum of 6 we had seen before:
  • Power—increased attack damage.
  • Precision—increased critical strike chance.
  • Vitality—increased health.
  • Toughness—increased defense/armor.
The new attribute system effectively means that, short of different trait slotting, you can be fairly efficient with any weapon you pick up as long as you're able to wield it. What this also means is that the character you play will be less based upon which points you slot where, but on how the character feels. Having a tighter attribute choice frees up the player to get a feeling of what its like to play with each attribute. The player can more effectively get a grip on how their character plays with a high "Power" attribute much easier, rather than attempting to factor in Strength, Agility, Intelligence and Perception. I think this new system will allow us to more effectively play the game as we want.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

This Is Not A Game

TINAG is the mantra of a good ARG player and a effective PuppetMaster. It binds the whole game together, keeps players involved and immersed and ensures that the PM can hide effectively behind the curtain pulling the strings at will. It stands for "This Is Not A Game" and essentially translates to that whilst we are "in-game" all characters, players and external game objects must act as if they exist in their own Universe - as if the whole charade is real. TINAG keeps the players in the Universe of the PM's creation, and keeps the PM safely hidden behind the "curtain", it allows the players to experience the game in its purest form, without constand reminders (at least from in-game sources) that it is, in fact, just a game.
UnFiction is strictly OOG (Out Of Game) and anything which is said there must have absolutely no bearing on the game in question, of course, there aren't ARG-police out there to enforce this rule and many a PM has encroached on uF's immunity by posting there as an in-game character (see the Slenderman Mythos board for several examples) or using information shared there by the players to drive their story:

  • For example, say Player A finally cracks a puzzle which has been bugging the community for weeks - he posts his conclusions on unFiction to the delight of his peers, they share a flagon of Butterbeer and rejoice, but no-one posts the solution to any ingame source as they want to release the information carefully and get the best result possible. The PM, having seen that the players have solved the puzzle (after perusing the thread for their game on the forums) declares the puzzle solved and releases the next puzzle. Players would probably consider this a breach of the trust which goes with uFiction and be significantly displeased with the PM.
  • Another example could be a single player given information by an in-game character and told "not to share it with a single living soul". It is perfectly within their right to release that information on unFiction if they choose to - theoretically, the in-game character could never know as unFiction doesn't exist in their Universe. If there are in-game ramifications for the player releasing the information on unFiction then again, the players would be rather miffed.
Thats not to say there can't be a back and forth between the PM and the players; I've interacted with a number of PMs whilst playing their games - sometimes for OOG hints and sometimes just to chat. The VA interview I did a few weeks ago allowed the players to see how Paul put the whole game together. It gave us a deeper understanding of the story which we might have missed (OK, lets be honest, we missed a LOT).

I've followed Troy's blog for a few months now and I feel its given me a greater understanding of the creative process behind the Marble Hornets series. Troy talks about managing his schedule with MH updates, school, filming, work and other such things and to be honest I'm incredibly impressed. The MH team drop some seriously high quality content every couple of weeks or so and manage to maintain a zealously loyal following of viewers across the Internet whilst simultaneously studying, working and, seemingly, going to Mardi Gras (see left). The MH game has never really been about player interaction. The closest we've come to actual puzzle solves are the cryptic TTA vids which crop up every so often. With this minimal interaction, there have been few chances for the players to get behind the "curtain" and see the cogs which drive the story. Troy's blog allows us not only to peek behind the curtain, but to leap out between the crack in the drapes and shout "Oi Oi boys!".

As a rule to go by, TINAG is a good one. But its not set in stone and it is changing. A while back I talked about Gaming and the Real World, and how Jane McGonigal hopes that through gaming we might influence real world change. It isn't difficult to fit TINAG into this conception - I suppose it only serves to truly emphasise the point: it really isn't a game if it has real world implications. It sounds like a brilliant idea in my opinion and I hope that as a medium gaming begins to gather credibility as a vehicle for change. I hope, however, that if we begin to see more and more games which seek to impress real world changes onto their players, that PMs will not forget that, deep down inside, we are all kids who want to play, we want to be sucked into a world without consequences and just escape for a while. I hope that PMs won't forget that, whatever we say... TIAG.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Alice: Madness Returns - 14th July 2011

I said a while back that American McGee's Alice was one of my favourite games of the past decade, and the sequal looks like its serving up the same steaming dollop of madness as the first. The first game was deliciously twitsted; I would not like to have been a pothead when this game was on the circuit. With demented children, evil flowers and armies of playing cards - it was a nightmare, and oh so seductively demented. The sequal seems to be following the same vein; a relatively simple platform shooter with a gothic overtone.

The graphics on the last game were alright for their time, but it looks as if the teasm at EA have really utilised the modern day engine to create the twisted (and sometimes hauntingly beautiful) Wonderland. I'm hoping Alice: Madness Returns will be just as brixx shittingly freaky as the first.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Oh ANet, you tease!

Oh the woes of living in the UK! This looks exciting beyond belief - anyone want to get me some swag and ship it over here for me?


Thursday, 3 March 2011

Guild Wars: Feature Build Drops Tonight!

John Stumme has confirmed that the Embark Beach/7 Hero Build/Title update for Guild Wars 1 will be uploaded later today (although Martin Kernstein has stated that they won't say a specific time, and I predict it will fall at 11:59 - Baker Island time).

This is the most anticipated Guild Wars update (at least for me) for a long time, the run down of the updates is as follows:

  • Introduction of the outpost "Embark Beach" (EB). EB will include links to all Mission outposts - with sections for Tyria, Cantha and Elona. Similarly, all mission outposts will now have a zaishen "Scout" added to allow teleportation back to Embark Beach.
  • Seems EB will also be the new home of the Zaishen Quests - and will have additional daily tasks added with the introduction of the "Zaishen Vanquish" option.
  • 7 Hero update - eagerly awaited. Self explanatory really, they are increasing the hero cap from 3 to 7; to allow full parties of NPCs. UI updates are coming in to handle this. A new option to allow greater control over party allies (necromancer minions etc) is also being added. 
  • Mercenary Heroes - I haven't had a chance to properly look into this one. But the sounds of it are that you can pay a nominal fee and have one of your own playable characters adventure with you as a hero - sounds AWESOME to me. Can't wait to party with a party of ME.
  • Dailies in Pre-Searing (apparently, there will be nine every day!). Pre-Searing Ascalon has always been a rather insular community, and the players who are going for/have achieved Legendary Defender of Ascalon (LDoA) have always been an odd bunch. Because LDoA requires you to reach maximum level before you move off the starter area, and the level which the monsters reach around that area only reach high enough to produce EXP up to level 16 or so, the LDoA title involved allowing yourself to be killed over and over again by a monster in order to increase its level and then eventually killing it when it was a sufficient level as to produce EXP. This process was incredibly time consuming, and often involved leaving your computer running overnight. With the introduction of daily quests, pre-searing players are now given another option to get the much coveted title. I can see the anger rising on the horizon for those who worked their ass off to get the title when it was a complete bitch. Personally, I'll just be happy to get another title under my belt.
  • An historian NPC will be added to presearing to allow pre players to add titles to their Hall of Monuments.
  • Undisclosed changes to the LDoA, Survivor, Drunkard, Party Animal and Sweet Tooth titles.
  • Shit will hit the fan.
Sweeping changes, its going to be a rocky few weeks on Guild Wars as the prices of items skyrocket in response to increased demand (depending on the exact changes made to the Party, Drunkard and Sweet titles). Similarly, I foresee a lot of whining and bitching about the changes to the more time consuming titles.

Drop in tomorrow for a full run down of the aftermath - I'll be all 7 heroed out by then I fear. I'm literally quivering with excitement.


From the horses mouth: John Stumme tells us about the updates:

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Find Makarov

Live action Modern Warfare?! Yes please. For a while there was thinkins' that it might be viral ads by Activision/Infinity ward/whoever it is thats producing the next game (North Korea?), but it turns out its a project by an ARG project team - see quote from PC gamer:

The new information comes courtesy of Spike TV journalist Geoff Keighley, who has done some digging and revealed that the countdown was created by We Can Pretend, a team from Toronto working on a Call of Duty inspired project. Keighley said that “production sources who worked on the self-funded project call it visually spectacular.”
Either way, its freaking awesome. When they planted the breach charges and then splattered that guy? Crazy.

The Omen 4: Unibrow of Despair

Hey, this looks like an interesting article...

Yes, very insightful - had better scroll down.

Interesting! So if I put my relationship status on facebook it is likely that when the Girl finally chooses her moment to crush my feeble heart, it will be played out in glorious technoco... wait, whats that?

Oh sweet Jesus...


ZI Acquaintance and Candy

You know when you're just sitting there minding your own business (possibly absent mindedly scratching yourself), and someone forwards you a confidential cipher code disregarded by the CIA and circulated through the means of a temporary dummy email address to the greatest logical minds that the internet has to offer?

You know that feeling? Well, thats the feeling I'm feeling with my feelers right about now.

Received the following email about an hour ago:

Subject: I hope you do not mind me passing this on to you.

I was sent this by a friend of mine who's working as an intern at the Central Intelligence Agency. He says that this came across his desk, but they decided to disregard it. Having played ARGs for years, I figured I'd send it along to you. This email address is temporary, and I will not be checking it or replying to any questions you have.


Here are the messages you've missed:

P F Q U a l D W e D F x w c W P U Y s y v w x Q U D P B Q e x A O y w C

D X F K f x j S Y V W f k q e A D S F V E D R b p W E b d r W E T Y U v
p X P O x o b S D I I P N p l N Y j b S H J L Q q e f k d M S J U b i p
Q D S D C L b t e x P F Q U q x j f i l S K W S X l h f R J V k d c G U
R F R l o x d K V O H x A H O A f k

u h B A K L s n b c O B M H V h a P D A u v i E N o n n b M P S Q y c l
u S D E C V L x p y E R l n c V B R T m y g y h A S S n m u h x V E W u
h D F s l y S L D J J m y u S G D l w b n b y S V I Y S s p y w i h N Q
T R D x o C w n C y x i W F V l o A m y L M S F E x

W h B C O g z S F E X u d e t M Y F I k k L z b b R L O X d r r L Q V s
V S D n a A E R L L n s g o A O O C N S z o d S q e h S D F R V G k d A
r z m E R c A D V G s g d A V h q A r P K L E N d q V T Y u d q W E r r
N H N Y h m H P O E b d B V h S L Q W z l c V F V J K D h f S T Y J L L
h s T Y J h y Y U K h m f d E T Y K D F G u d q T x S s F g h J Y m f D

G L x Y U I U K l S z m S z H f d q J T h r S D j H h S m H S c S n H e
Y s J n D J D t b S g E R x H J s g E T J G H U U n t D f D g S U I J

We missed multiple messages between this one and the other next one.

m s D G F B M g D F S D h F G v S s B H N B R T a Y J c J K b I O s m F
D w b h S v s S N o N q q N M c M i b h w g s b c i S F D G u v S t c f
S o S S t S B s G k G F a D J c D b J h v g D h D v o J b J y m D D F G
c i

Good luck
.Unfiction thread has been made here: CLICK ME PLEASE - I LOVE IT. We need help...

ps. can't.stop.reading.Steam Me Up,!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas

The knock on effect of a good puzzle can be devastating. That's why I was still awake at 2am last night, and consequently, why I woke up late and missed the bus. F.F.E.Y.T had me in a puzzle-lock.

The effort was worth it, however, as together we managed to crack the first major gambit laid out by the mysterious Tweeter "WhiteRabbitYT". But lets start from the beginning: like many good stories, this one begins on Valentine's day.

On "Corporate Forced Love Day" a number of us over at unFiction received a mysterious message from a secret admirer:
My name is F.F.E.Y.-T. and I would like[with my friends] to wish you a good day.
Just a little something to let you know you are being thought of.
And will be thought of again this year...

Forest Frederic Edward Yeo-Thomas
Nice, isn't it? Well... it would be nicer if Forest weren't a dead guy.

Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas (1902-1964)  was quite a guy: captured by the Russians during the Polish Soviet War; he strangled a guard in order to escape, after this he worked in a stylish French fashion house before becoming an interpreter for the Free French Forces. He didn't work this job for very long before being whisked away to be a secret agent, parachuted into occupied France to help the French resistance coordinate attacks against German forces. After returning to Britain he wangled a meeting with the PM managed to convince Churchill to help fund the French resistance. In 1944 he once again parachuted into occupied France, but was betrayed by one of his men and captured by the Gestapo. Tortured and imprisoned; he organised a revolt amongst the prisoners and briefly escaped. Upon recapture he passed himself off as a French national and was transferred to a prison near Marienburg. Once again he managed to escape and make it back to the Allied forces. After the war he was a witness at the Nuremberg Trials.

Its quite a life to hi-jack. Experience tells me that it is not random that the PM has chosen this important character as his pseudonym and there are numerous connections which have already been made: FFEYT has a habit of quoting Mary Shelley and Byron; "Shelley" was a pseudonym the real FFEYT went under whilst in occupied France. "White Rabbit" was also another codename the real guy went by; which is how we found the character's twitter account (also worth noting that a "trailhead" or starting point for an ARG is often called a "Rabbit Hole").

FFEYT has been communicating mainly through Twitter up until now, through cryptic tweets about "P.M", the day of the water in the street and endless poetry. After a bit of brainboxing we worked the tweets lead to "Rue de Eaux" or "Street of Water"- a reference to the location of FFEYT's death and so this lead to the date of his death: 26th February. We waited with bated breath for the 26th to come around and for the promised "Gauntlet" to be thrown down.

On the 26th, those who had sent FFEYT an email received a .wmv file in response: the video showed a number of different images and challenged the watcher to "find" him. At the start of the video, there were scrolling numbers running across the screen from top to bottom: 4369605441. Simply googling the number lead to - and at the bottom of this page we find that WhiteRabbitYT had favourited the picture; allowing us to view his saved images. 



So: three cryptic questions. Let's take a look at each one individually:

When: The White Rabbit
If you look carefully, you can see some text in white over the Rabbit's eye; thats binary. It translates to 20th April 1798. Fairly easy for a beginning question, don't you think? There was also another code embedded in the picture which translated to "QTR" - we don't know the relavence of this yet.

Who: The Letter Grid
The letters in the grid spell out:
Which translates to: "I received the newborn Galvani; I cried him dead / He held together both the electric poles." The numbers at the bottom translate to the coordinates 49.6 N, 84.6 W - which leads us to a crater on the moon: Galvani. The who was Luigi Galvani.

Where: The Parrots
This is the one which stumped us. We knew they were parrots and they might be on fire or something... The tagline to the picture reads: "Names, collectively, have power..." which lead us to believe it had something to do with the collective noun for parrots; which we could only find to be "Company".
I TinyEyed the background and found it was a well used image of Hell. Meanwhile, String, a relatively new player, popped in an informed us that another name for a group of parrots was a "Pandemonium" - Pandemonium was the name for the capitol city of Hell in Paradise Lost - our where was Pandemonium.
Ofiuco contacted FFEYT with our answers and he confirmed they were correct. Seems Ofiuco will now be receiving a package with the next set of clues! FFEYT tweeted that we should wait for more information and expect an update on "White Day" - 14th March. 
Last night was very fun, and working as a team to put together all the clues really felt good. I can't wait to see what other twists and turns might be lying just around the corner for us. This game reminds me of Ministry of Argon in its twistyness and that was one hell of a ride; this game is shaping up to be awesome on a whole new scale. Bring on March.

The game can be followed at the unFiction thread here.
Or you can contact FFEYT directly at


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