Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Secret to getting fast Renown

Last night Melf told me about a neat little trick he discovered on the forums for gaining Renown in WAR scenarios extremely quickly. All you have to do is change teams in the scenario so that you are alone or with the mates you want, and you will gain a stack more renown (the less in your team the better). The trick sounded very simple, so naturally Melf and I tried it for ourselves. Sure enough... it worked...

I used my Warrior Priest (Starmantle) and Melf used his Iron Breaker (Drogan) in the Troll Crossing scenario. We created our own little team in slot 10 and played as we normally do.

To change teams in a scenario you right click your character portrait and select 'Leave scenario team'. There will then be an option to join any other team you like. Just click the 'join' link at the bottom of a team slot in the team window.

Here are the results of the first match. Yup, Starmantle and Drogan top scored for Renown. Not bad for rank 17 and 18. The XP gained was nice as well:

Similar results in the second match (click images to enlarge):

This neat neat little trick isn't an exploit. The reason you get more renown than everyone else is that you don't split it with your team mates. In other words, you don't have slackers sapping the rewards for your hard work. The other advantage is that you always get the rewards from corpse looting (he he, no need to roll). The downside is that you miss out on all the buffs associated with being in a group.

Although it is great to finally get the renown I have worked for, I really hope Mythic fix this problem because it promotes solo play in scenarios, which can only lead to disaster.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

NEED, GREED, Pain in the ASS!

How many times have you been burnt by the annoying little game mechanic called 'Need, Greed, Pass' (NGP)? It's been one too many for me and frankly I'm pissed off. Back in the days when I played WoW, there was nothing worse than having some idiot clicking need on a item that they couldn't even use. Especially when I had been grinding for over a month to get the item. Unfortunately WAR has copied the NGP mechanic over from WoW and now I have to deal with it all over again!!!

NGP is a great example of bad game design. It relies on the trust and competency of gamers not to abuse it in order for it to function as intended. Works okay if you know the people you are playing with, but not so much in PUG groups. Did someone say 'open grouping'? Oh gee.. whoops.. I really hope Mythic saw that coming...

Until Mythic fix or remove NGP I will be joining the every growing group of people abusing this mechanic by always clicking 'Need'. Now why would I join the people I hate so much? Many reasons:
  1. No items I have encountered in WAR so far are 'bind on pickup', which means even if I can't use the item, I can sell it on Auction House and make money from it.
  2. Items I can't sell on Auction House can always be used for Magical Salvaging.
  3. There is a chance that I can give the item to an alternate character.
  4. In RvR or scenarios, I don't have time to determine if I need an item when I've got 3 Chaos Marauders on my ass. Pfft - 'Need'.
  5. If everyone clicks 'Need' then everyone has an equal and fair chance of getting the item.
  6. The more a broken mechanic is abused, the more chance there is of it being fixed.
Honestly, I don't care if the carebears hate me, they should be blaming Mythic for coping a mechanic without putting prior thought into what affect it would have in their new 'open grouping' dynamic.

Knockbacks are the best thing ever

I'm not sure if any game before WAR has ever featured knockbacks, but for me it's a brand new mechanic.

For those of you who haven't played the game or seen knockbacks, they are simply attacks that cause your target to go flyyyyying back quite a good distance over the battlefield. They go up in the air quite a nice way. Knockbacks are full of win because:

1) They are extremely fun to use. I lol every time I use one, usually making the weeeeee sounds as the other person flies through the air.

2) They are actually kind of fun to have them used on you! It's such a funny thing to all of a sudden be flying through the air, you can't help but laugh a bit. Of all the debuffs I've ever seen in an RPG, I actually don't mind being the victim of this, and that's an amazing thing.

3) They have great strategical use. Knocking people off cliffs won't hurt them (you take no damage from the fall when knocked back), but it can still put them at a serious positional disadvantage as they run back to scale the cliff. You can knock melee DPS away from your backline. You can knock enemy backline INTO your melee DPS. You can knock enemy healers away from the fray, allowing your team to score an easy kill on someone else. Etc.

4) It's a debuff that allows the person it's used upon to change their tactics a little to diminish the hurt. For example, you're a melee character pushing the enemy backline, when suddenly you're knocked away.... you land close to your own backline, giving you a nice opportunity to lineback some melee that are hurting your healers there. Or, you're knocked far enough away from the fray to make a retreat if you were looking for an opening to. Or you run off to capture another shrine instead of the one you were heading towards. Etc.

There are so many cool situations I've seen from limited use of this skill already.

Yesterday I was approaching a PQ area that takes place at the base of a cliff, which I was going to carefully scale to join in. When all of a sudden I stumbled across a shaman! I leaped to the fray and tried my best to take him down, but couldn't put him below half health. Except, he was standing kind of close to the edge of a cliff -> position myself -> *thwack* shaman goes flying down. Shaman lands in the middle of several enemies, who proceed to make mincemeat out of him, to my immense satisfaction (and maniacal cackling).

In Mourkain temple (tier 2 scenario) you want to try and take down the guy who's captured the relic thingy - he has a big glowing red column above his head. Often he's tough to kill because he's hiding in the backline. A couple of time I ran in there, got behind the lucky fellow, turned around and *thwack* knocked him out of the park (into my waiting team, who slaughtered him).

I heart knockbacks.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I'm so happy...

No way... they actually heard my plea:


WAR Oceanic servers will now be updated at non prime time hours for the region. I'm so happy, that I feel like I'm going to cry. AU and NZ gamers will no longer be getting the ass for server downtime. No other MMO game I know does this. I didn't think anyone cared about Australian or New Zealand gamers... I was wrong... Mythic... I.. I.. I think I love you?

How to play WAR

Or, rather, how we've been playing WAR.

WAR has been promoted as a game where you can progress doing whatever you want - pure PvE, pure PvP (RvR), or a mixture. We've found it to be fairly effective, and fun, to mix it up, even if you are primarily a PvP player as we are. You CAN level purely in RvR, but you will get beaten pretty hard despite the level bumping due to lack of damage/skills/armor in the early levels.

Our basic strategy so far is:

1) Run around the starting areas in true powergamer style, solving 3-4 quests every time you enter a new area. This gets you a few levels.

2) At this point you'll stumble upon your first PQ. Do the PQ a few times and max out your influence for the chapter (be sure to figure out what exactly gives you influence at each stage, and selfishly acquire as much for yourself as you can, even if your team-mates are struggling with enemies... tee hee). Try not to die during the PQ, as it's often a 2 minute run back.... retreating from the enemy and healing up while others do some of the work will end up getting you more influence since you'll be able to re-enter the combat sooner.

Go and talk to the nearby Rally Master, and pick some nice gear. Take the quest that the Rally Master gives you (only available after you max out your influence) and follow it to get to the next Chapter. At this point you're about level 6.

Note that Chapters are not the same as Tiers - each Tier has multiple chapters. So don't be afraid that going to Chapter 2 is going to put you up against level 20 guys :)

3)Here's where my favourite part of WAR kicks in:

There's a little button at the top left of your minimap. Click on it, and you'll be able to enter a queue to go and do Scenario RvR (instanced team PvP - you can join as a group). This grants you mucho experience, decent money, and is heaps of fun, but more importantly it also gives you renown points.

Renown points are used to advance your renown rank, which is basically your PvP level. Whenever you gain a level, you can talk to NPC's in town that reward you with some really nice items and some minor additional skills. Be sure to talk to each of these guys as soon as you gain a level for maximum carnage. If you plan on levelling up a lot in RvR, you'll want the 5% extra XP tactic as soon as it's available.

The renown gear is usually roughly as good as the PQ gear of the same level, but they're often different specific items, so that you really need gear from both if you want to have a really powerful character. This is why it seems better to advance in both RvR and PQ's hand-in-hand, not one or the other. The renown gear will cost you a little cash, but not really that much - I was always able to afford whatever I needed. I really like the accessibility of gear in this game, you don't have to rely on lucky drops since you can pick all the best stuff as rewards from npc's, and the stuff you do have to pay for is fairly cheap. Hats off to Mythic for that.

One final important note on Scenarios: most towns have 1-2 quests that you can grab that can be completed in the Scenarios as part of your normal playing (one I think is to win the scenario, another is to kill X number of players). So while you're waiting for the scenario queue each time, you can go and talk to these npc's and you'll be truly raking in the XP.

4) Anyway, you don't have to do Scenarios exclusively while levelling up your renown rank. While waiting for the Scenario queue you can still run around completing quests etc. You probably won't have enough time to get a PQ in (Scenarios are getting played fairly frequently on our server, at least in the lower tiers), but you have the option of not joining the Scenario when you get the notification that the game's ready.

If you do go into a Scenario half way through a quest, don't stress, as you're teleported straight back to where you were, making it the perfect little diversion if you're a little over questing. This hand-in-hand PvE and PvP progression is heaps of fun and helps ensure you're never bored.

5) So, mix it up between Scenarios and the PQ for the next chapter. As soon as you've got your influence maxed, head on to the next chapter and go find the next PQ. Do regular quests along the way while waiting in the Scenario queue, but don't stress about doing every single one, as there are way way more quests than you could ever want to do. I frequently have to abandon quests because I reach a new area and my quest log is full (wtb extra pages for my tome of knowledge).

If you feel you're handling the PQ's pretty well, you can also run ahead a couple of chapters and try your hand at PQ's there. Much more rewarding, but also much more challenging.

Anyway, why am I still writing about levelling up in WAR? Time to go do some more of it!

Monday, September 22, 2008

WAR has solved the twinking problem?

One of the issues that I have always been on the fence about is 'twinking' in PVP. Some people love them and others despise them to the ends of the universe. A 'twink' is a low level char that has been geared up with the best available armour and weapons for their level, giving them a significant advantage over others in PvP. Twinking is not an easy process and often requires enormous amounts of time and gold to achieve. The players that put in the effort to twink are rewarded with the feeling of total PvP domination (it's a good feeling), but it comes at the expense of the enjoyment of other players. This was always a big problem with WoW and often turned people off playing low level PvP. Guild Wars solved the twinking problem with max level armour and weapons, and I was interested to see if WAR had managed to solve the problem given that their item system followed suit with WoW. It turns out they have... almost...

The solution was not to prevent twinking, but to make it less rewarding for the effort involved. WAR's PvP system rewards players with XP based on their contribution to the scenario. The more they contribute (ie. Twinkers), the more XP they receive and the faster they level. A level 11 twink in WAR is likely only able to play 10 PvP scenarios (or less) before they reach level 12, thus moving them up into the next tier of PvP scenarios. This means that for all the work involved in twinking a WAR char, the twinker only gets 10 games (or less) of PvP before they have to move on.

Some player's may think it's still worth the effort, others not so much. Either way, if you encounter a twink in WAR PvP scenarios, rest assured you wont be seeing much more of them.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

WAR gameplay impressions

I'm on a blogging spree! I've had lots to say over the last couple of days, but couldn't stop playing the game long enough to do it. Now I'm away from home on my laptop which can't run the game, so this is the next best thing :p

So, Crimson, myself and 2 friends all shipped our computers over to Crimson's place for the weekend. There we proceeded to consume large amount of pizza, diet coke, and most importantly, played a lot of Warhammer Online. Here are some thoughts:

1) Open vs Core Server: We chose an Open server for the thrill, and, let's face it, for the potential to return to low level areas and pwn noobs who have no chance against us ;)

We were happy with the decision, and did not get ganked much at times that we didn't want to. When we did get ganked, it was often a 1v1 with a similar level.

And the times that it was a significantly higher level it was quite fun. For example, a level 10 was chasing me and some others around while we were around level 5 trying to complete a PQ. We snared him and teamed up to beat the snot out of him a couple of times. Most fun.

One time I was standing near a town and a level 20 jumped me from a cliff (me level 10), only to splat to his death without me lifting a finger. Lol.

No experience with the chicken mechanic yet, as we haven't gone far enough in the game.

2. Order or Destruction:
Play whatever your friends are playing. I'm on the only Open oceanic server (Anlec or something I think it's called), and the scenarios and RvR are fairly 50:50.

I also don't feel as though there are any glaring imbalances between the 2 sides. I'm sure this is in large part due to the mirroring of each class on the other side.

3. UI and controls: Pretty easy to figure out how everything works from reading the tooltips, even if you haven't played WoW.

If you have played WoW, well, everything's pretty much identical in terms of UI and controls. In general, I hated WoW's controls, being a Guild Wars fanboy at heart.

In Guild Wars auto-attacking is a breeze and your character will automatically chase others if you tell it to melee. In WAR and of course WoW, you need to manually micro-manage your character to move every time. Don't get me wrong, this requires its own measure of skill, but I find the way that Guild Wars does it allows me to pay much more attention to what skills myself and my opponents are using. It also involves me pushing a lot less buttons, which makes me feel less frenzied and out of control in combat.

I guess one way is more the strategical player's way, and the other way is the reflex player's way. Both systems have their merits, it's just a matter of getting used to it.

One useful note is that players don't show up on the map or if they're hiding behind obstacles. This introduces a new level of tactics in terms of sneaking and ambushes, which we absolutely loved. Memorable moments include sneaking out behind hills with enemy RvR players ringing the town, stealth ganks to capture scenario objectives right behind the enemy, a seemingly impossible to destroy tank (due to the healer above us on the roof that we could barely see), etc.

Guild Wars is completely opposite, enemies can not sneak anywhere. I actually prefer the WAR way of doing things just for the extra tactical depth.

3. Starting areas: Quite well done, plenty of interesting quests. Just as you're getting the feel of the game, you'll likely end up in your first public quest. More on those below.

If you want to join with friends in a different faction, you need to find flight masters. These are located in all the starting hubs (and many other towns) and look like a blue and gold sphere on your mini map. Additionally, they're always located somewhere up relatively high, with a platform where you might imagine a little dwarf helicoptre thing would have room to land.

It took us several hours to find them, and it was only in chapter 2 that we managed to hook up to actually play with each other!

4. Finding NPC's: Kind of a pain. The issues with the flight masters as noted above extend to finding specific npc's such as career trainers, renown trainers, and renown merchants. Often we were able to find 2 of the 3, which was never the one we were looking for. The reason it's so hard is that, even though useful npc's have different icons to the other things on your map, the icons are so large in relation to the map that you can't see what's happening in many major hubs (or if a party member is standing on top of an npc).

They need to add more sorting options for the map (there are already quite a few which is a plus), or allow a zoom feature so that it's less of an issue.

4. Public quests. Lots of fun. Lots of problems and exploits. Interesting to see where Mythic take this, I hope they fix the problems. If they don't, I'm sure future MMO's will.

Basically, all PQ's work like this:

A) Several quests that you obtain in town will lead you to the vicinity of a PQ.

B) There's a separate status/goals display for the PQ which pops up.

C) Progressing each stage of the PQ earns you influence points. Talking to the Rally Master (located near the PQ, or in the nearest town) allows you to obtain gear based on the amount of influence you've accumulated for that chapter. There are 3 tiers of rewards, and once you reach a certain amount of influence, you get to pick 1 thing from the applicable tier.

The more you contribute, the more influence you earn. It's advisable to do a PQ 3 - 5 times (depending on how much you contributed) until you max out your influence for the chapter, to get the best gear.

D) PQ's are very repetitive in their formula. There are always 3 stages. Stage 1 is always untimed, and requires killing of LARGE numbers of easy enemies that can be sought out at your leisure. Completely possible to solo, but doesn't give a ton of influence. Feels kind of grindy unless you have a large group, but the influence to be gained keeps you going.

Stage 2 always involves a timer, in which you have to interact with a certain number of things in the game world. For example, lighting some barrels, or talking to some people to free them. These things are always guarded by monsters, which you must kill, but the monsters themselves don't give any influence. Gives fairly decent influence rewards.

BUT stage 2 is easy to exploit if you want to leech from people. Basically, let the others in your group kill/distract the enemy while you run around clicking on whatever you need to click on to gain influence. Your allies get NO influence for this stuff. I had this happen to me a few times, and then I started doing it as well (better me than them!). It made my influence gain a lot faster, and fails a LOT. Mythic need to fix this so that the influence is shared a little, or perhaps give influence for the monsters guarding the things as well (preferably both).

Stage 2 can often be completed with, say, 3-4 people (the groups can be sought out at your leisure, within the time limit).

Stage 3 always involves some uber boss and associated minions. The boss hits hard, and lots of people often die. Lots unless they're quite a high level. Preferably at least half a dozen people are needed, sometimes less for easier PQ's if you have a good group. The nearest res is usually a 2 minute run away, sometimes more, sometimes less. This can cause problems if you die right before the boss does. You'll still get the reward, but if you don't make it back within 2 minutes of the loot rolls, the PQ is reset and you can't reach the chest to get your loot.

I watched (and lol'd) as Crimson missed out on a nice bag of loot by literally a second or two due to this, after contributing heaps on the PQ. Definitely needs to be fixed.

In general, PQ's somewhat fail because you don't want a large group of people doing them, since it dilutes the influence too much. On the other hand, too small a group and you won't be able to finish the thing (especially the boss). The leeching (especially in part 2) is annoying. And the whole formula is quite repetitive (although the monsters fought and scenery etc looks sufficiently different to make them fun). I like PQ's much more than regular quests, but this stuff should be looked at.

E) According to how much influence you gained over the course of the PQ, you get a score. A roll is then made and the winners get loot of various degrees of goodness depending on where they placed. I get the impression that the faster the PQ is completed, the more rewards are available for more people. It's possible to contribute heaps and miss out on loot, but this only happens occasionally and doesn't feel to bad since you know "in your heart" that you rocked the PQ.

5. Scenarios: Scenarios are instanced team PvP. Anyone less than a certain level is boosted to almost the max for that tier (eg level 8 for the first tier, which allows levels 1-12). You can enter as a party, and will get formed into makeshift parties with other people that enter. The best thing of all is that you can queue up a scenario at any time. When enough people have queued, the scenario is started, and you teleport there. Once finished you teleport back to where you were. No running to a particular town and ruining whatever else you were doing. Full of win.

The queues can be longish at times, but often you want a bit more time to finish an RvR objective, or a PQ, so it's not a big deal. Usually I found the queues to be very fast, often instant.

The scenarios and real-world RvR both give you renown points. Renown gives you access to better gear than usually available, and some different skills. You definitely want to level up your renown rank along with your regular level.

Each scenario consists of some points to contend over, with the object being to do something at the point, ie capture it, to improve your group's score. First to 500 wins. I *think* kills contribute to this points score, but it's much more effective to actually capture points rather than kill the whole time.

Scenarios are way fun. They are often quite contingent on getting a healer who knows what they're doing. Crimson and our group were able to dominate fairly effectively since we always had 1 healer in the team, 1 tank, and some dps characters.

The unfortunate thing about scenarios is that even though your health/stats are boosted to a competitive level, your armor and weapons aren't, and you're still stuck with your regular crummy skills. Twinked out max level characters can steamroll scenarios pretty effectively, and a twinked out tank can often take 5 lesser players to take it down.

They should work to reduce this effect of twinking in my opinion. Again, I come from Guild Wars where everybody gets gear of the same power. You grind for looks/bragging rights. But then again compared to WoW, WAR seens to involve much less of a gear grind.

6. RvR: In each zone are a couple of control points, that allow you to advance the war effort. I'm sure these are tied into sieging of keeps etc, but I haven't seen this occur yet so can't say too much about it. The benefit I have noticed is that a lot of renown points come in when you advance the war effort far enough (even if you're standing somewhere in the general area and thought you hadn't contributed much!).

When enemies are around/capturing points, npc's in the town give out repeatable quests to put you out there doing things so that you're rewarded handsomely for beating back the invaders. It's fairly fun to run out and beat on some people while waiting for scenarios to queue. Definitely like the RvR so far.

That's it for now. Next post will give some strategies for levelling/always having the best gear you can, as well as a breakdown of the classes that we've had experience with so far.

WAR on minimum requirements

A friend played Warhammer Online with Crimson and I over the weekend on a computer that only just met the minimum system requirements.

Single core CPU 2.5GHz, 1 GB RAM, 8500 GT graphics card, running on XP.

The settings needed to be turned down ASAP to avoid lots of crash-to-desktops. Simply choosing the "best framerate" isn't enough, you need to go into the settings manually and decrease the resolution to minimum, remove fancy effects, etc. Removing names of enemies and non-partied allies seemed to help quite a bit in large battles/towns.

In the end, the thing ran pretty well, with hardly any crashes. Not bad for a $50 graphics card.

So for all those thinking about running the game with a similar system or better, go for it. If your specs are much less than that, you'll probably need to upgrade. Fortunately the 2 things most likely to improve your performance (RAM and GPU) are available very cheap.

WAR beginnings

So Crimson and I got in on Warhammer Online for the launch and will be sharing our thoughts over the next few days.

I'm having a lot of fun playing the game, but, this post will deal with some technical issues we had getting the thing up and running. I'm sure these will all be ironed out in the near future, but just so people who are about to start playing it can run the thing:

1) Account creation problems. Many have had troubles signing up for an account. I experienced this myself. I'm fairly sure the problem is using Firefox without the latest version of java/flash/some other net language.

Internet explorer worked fine, I think because it comes with the latest versions of this stuff. Note that it may still issue a message that account creation failed - but it actually didn't, the account will be listed under your subscriptions, and you can still log in.

2) You need to enter your credit card even though the box comes with a month free. Apparently you won't be charged. Not a bug, but, hmmm.

3) The game on the CD doesn't actually work on a large number of machines/discs. Remember that error you get trying to run games from 1990 on modern pc's, out of conventional memory? Similar thing here. Apparently the WAR devs were recruited with some kind of time machine. The main file runs through DOS, and didn't even have an icon.

Anyway, this thread contains solutions to this and some similar problems (page 1, 2nd post, and page 3, last post (my settings are 15 posts per page... posters were xenoclix and Axzarc):


In a nutshell, get these 2 files and overwrite the ones in your Warhammer root directory:


4) My game discs didn't install direct x 9 properly. I had to install another game that a friend had (assassin's creed) to get the latest direct x (new machine). Could also download from microsoft website.

5) Firewall issues. This causes an error when you load into the game and the EULA appears. You won't actually see the error until you alt tab, where it will say some nonsense about a critical error and that the program has to close. Simply choosing to allow the program doesn't work on some machines with picky firewalls. You may have to mess around allowing particular ports. My advice: completely close your firewall program. Don't view any dodgy porn files until you put it up again ^^

There are HEAPS of other errors that I didn't personally encounter. Look here for people who will undoubtedly have the same problems:


In summary, despite what Mythic are claiming about this being the smoothest launch in MMO history, IMO it ranks as the most FAIL launch I've ever seen. Exe file not running at all on a brand new machine is ridiculous. The error message system in the game is woeful and gives zero information on what the problem may relate to.

Having said all that, the game is cool, and I'll get to that in the next blog. I can't wait until the official patch that fixes every one of these issues, I imagine that the population numbers will probably quadruple.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Corpse looting rules for open PvP

Often 'player corpse looting' is not included on open PvP servers simply because no one likes being ganked and then having their stuff stolen, especially if the gear and other items have taken months worth of grinding to obtain. I think 'player corpse looting' could be a lot of fun, it just needs the proper rules governing it to prevent abuse. The ability to loot another player's corpse would add an additional element of risk to the open PvP dynamic, making it more challenging, rewarding and fun.

Below are the 'player corpse looting' rules for open PvP that I think would make sense:
  • Players must be of the same level or higher - A player's corpse will only be lootable if it was of the same level or higher. This rule does not apply if a lower level player initiated the combat.
  • Player must have been on full health before combat began - If the player was not on full health before combat was initiated, their corpse cannot be looted. This rule does not apply if the player not on full health initiated the combat.
  • Player must have the same group size or greater than you - If you have more people in your group than the victim, you cannot loot their corpse.
  • No external intervention - If the player was attacked unprovoked by an external source (not from their group) , you cannot loot their corpse. If the player that initiated combat receives healing/buffs from an external source, the other player's corpse will not be lootable.
  • Can only loot one item from the player per day - Once you defeat a player in PvP combat and loot their corpse, you cannot do so for another 24 hours. Only one item can be taken per looting, and must be chosen within 20 seconds.
  • Items that are bound to the player cannot be looted - This restricts looting to mostly rings and accessories, unless the player has unbound weapons and armour equipped.
  • Surrender is an option - The player has the option to surrender from combat thus preventing their death and corpse being looted for a small fee. The cost to surrender is the merchant price of all the items you have equipped (or some other value based off their level). If the player cannot pay the amount, surrender is not an option. Once a player has surrendered, they cannot be attacked by the same player in open PvP for 5 hours.
These rules are designed so that a corpse can only be looted if the player was defeated in a 'fair' fight. Assuming these rules are complete and work in practice, I think player corpse looting would be a great addition to any MMO game's open PvP servers.

Monday, September 15, 2008

When one becomes two

No, I'm not writing a new Spice Girls song.

I was reading this blog the other day... I wrote such a long reply to it I thought I'd copy-paste it and blog about it myself, since it's a great idea!


Basically, it was suggested that each class should have multiple primary roles open to it (eg, being a tank or a healer). You choose one before a battle begins, and that locks out the abilities of the other to preserve balance. This seems like an awesome idea. Why hasn't anybody done it before?

Well just today I discovered that they have! The new Rune-Keeper class in LotRO does just this. It seems that the more you use damage skills with this class, the better your damage skills become, and new damage skills become available - however, healing skills become progressively further blocked to you.

Conversely, the more you heal, the better your heals become, but the more blocked off your damage skills are.

So, the class is able to choose between being a healer, or a nuker (a "glass cannon" style thing)... But not both at the same time. It's also just as powerful at healing as the other primary healing class (Minstrel), and does crazy damage as a nuker (apparently). Pretty neat.

My vote: include such a mechanic in every future MMO, for every class - let everyone have 2 wildly different roles to choose from. That way when forming a group, the odds are much much better that all necessary roles are fulfilled.

Consider now a Guild Wars Random Arena match. This is a 4v4 game where you are randomly paired with a team of 3 other people. Basically what happens in most games is, one team was lucky enough to get a healer and a couple of people who can do damage (and invariably one noob who couldn't find his ass in the dark with a map and a flashlight), and the other team was not. Guess which team wins?

But in a system where you can alternate between 2 widely different roles within the same class type, people would be able to sort out who should be what before the match starts. To make this somewhat idiot-proof, before entering Random Arenas each person would vote 1-2 as to which spec they'd prefer to be. The game could then assess each person's potential roles and chosen preferences and compare it to a pre-programmed set of rules... something like

1) Get a healer if one is possible, no matter what preference any potential healers nominated it
2) If 2 healers are possible, choose the one that put the healer class as the highest preference
3) If there's a tie, choose one at random
4) Next fill the role of the melee, etc

Of course, people would be free to disable one of the preferences if they really didn't like/ didn't feel like being a particular spec.

This pairing/preferences concept could be used not just in Random Arenas, but in pretty much every PvE and PvP area of every game, every time a group is formed up. Group leaders could disable "auto roll select" of course.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Make the bugs bite less!

Every new MMO is going to launch with bugs, so why not soften the blow to the gamer with some positive re-enforcement. If game companies made their game's subscription half price for the first 1-3 months or so, I think gamers would be a lot less likely to get angry at finding bugs in their long awaited MMO. Instead of raging on forums (or blogs), I would be more inclined to say "thanks bug, you just saved me $10". The reduced subscription price would also serve to attract additional players to the game, who might have been on the fence about purchasing.

Games that don't have subscription fees (like Guild Wars), could use other incentives like half price in-game merchant costs, or double drop rates for the first month or so. It wouldn't have to be much, just as long as it counter balanced the negativity caused by bugs.

In the past I have held off buying MMO games on release, purely because I hate dealing with bugs. They make first impressions sour, and are one of the main causes of negative reviews. I think the smallest piece of positive re-enforcement (like reduced subscription fees) would go a long way toward aiding an MMO with a smooth release.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

WAR Open Beta - My thoughts

Straight up: I got badly caught up in the hype for this game and have thus been slapped with the bitter hand of disappointment. WAR is a good game, but I expected more. It has a lot of good elements (Public Quests, RvR, Tome of Knowledge etc), but the game is struggling to get the basics right. I’m not sure if it’s just the beta, but the game is riddled with bugs and glitches. There were issues all over the place with clipping, pathing, animations and collision detection. Being a software engineer, I took it as my duty to submit a bug every time I found one. I stopped after about 30, because I thought it was about time I shut up and played the game. I get the eerie feeling that WAR is not ready for launch. It needs to go back into the testing oven to bake for 3 months. If Mythic release WAR in the state it is now, reviews will suffer heavily and the game will launch poorly. Keen seems to think that the team at Mythic will have the bugs ironed out before release... I just hope he's right.

All throughout playing the Open Beta, I was hit with the constant feeling of deja-vu. Didn't I complete this quest in WoW back in 2005? The character screen looks the same as WoW and they even have num lock as auto-run. I won't dwell on this issue too much as other bloggers have already covered it off (Bartle Is Right). I was really hoping I wouldn't have to click the 'need, greed, pass' options again on loot drops, as there is always some idiot that messes it up, but guess what... it's in there :( /sigh

My other big negatives about the game were (which are nothing new):
  • Lack of character customizations. It's only really the face that can be customized, which means everyone of the same class looks the same if they're wearing a helmet.
  • No last names for characters. I really wanted to call my char 'Crimson Starfire', but you can only use one word for a name and you have to keep it to 14 chars or less. I don't understand why they do this; It's 2008 people - we have the technology for spaces in names!! This shouldn't be an issue!
  • Combat animations didn't seem to connect at all. There were so many clipping issues with character models and their animations that it really wasn't funny.
  • Combat was slow. I'm still used to the extreme timings and skill required to play Guild Wars PvP. Unfortunately I only PvP'd at level 7 and under in WAR, but there really didn't seem to be much skill involved (just mash the attack button and heal button). Hopefully this is not an issue at higher levels.
I must admit that the RvR didn't grab me. I remember playing Ascalon Arena (low level PvP) in Guild Wars when it first came out, and it was so much fun that I didn't want to leave. After 3 games of RvR, I really didn't feel like going back in for a forth. This is my biggest concern, as I'm a huge PvP fan.

It might be that I'm getting tired of the same old MMORPG style game (like someone else I know). I can't shake the deja-vu factor. Haven't I already completed this game five times already?

Although my initial impressions of WAR weren't great, I must say I still enjoyed playing. If they can fix the bugs, I'll be a lot happier.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Friendly fire in MMORPGs?

Let's 'pretend' for a second that magic is real (lol). Imagine being a wizard on the back-line of a large army charging into battle. Your army's front line knights clash heavily with those of the enemy and the battle begins. You start spell casting and send a magnificent fireball into the fray of battle. The fireball explodes leaving the enemy front line completely decimated. Luckily you have friendly fire 'turned off' and all your army's knights are unharmed. WTF? Immunity to friendly fire doesn’t make any sense in a fantasy realm, so what is it doing in my RPG?

Friendly fire (FF) in an MMORPG would definitely make sense, so why is it so rarely implemented in practice? I began pondering this question today...

If everyone in the game could harm everyone else, how would you prevent abusive players from carving up their own team? How would you even have teams? The entire game would need to be based on trust and diplomacy, which aren't exactly common traits in online players. FF would add an extra element of difficulty to large scale battles, because it would be hard to avoid accidentally exploding your team mates with AoE type attacks. The extra layer of difficultly would in fact make the game require more skill, possibly appealing to the hardcore gamers. Unfortunately hardcore gamers aren't exactly the majority population at the moment, so FF might not be the best idea ever. I'm guessing this is the reason that MMO game companies have thus far steered clear of FF. Too much risk of abuse, and only a small population of gamers that would enjoy it.

I definitely think FF would work in an MMORPG, but it would require a clever consequences system to prevent abuse. Being somewhat of a hardcore gamer, I look forward to seeing the first MMORPG to successfully pull it off. I've heard the FF will be included in Darkfall, but I'm still not convinced that the game isn't vaporware.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Building a new (modestly cheap) computer for DUMMIES

So with WAR ito be released imminently, and my computer barely able to run it at minimum specs, it's time for an upgrade.

I've decided to get a serious gaming rig, and I want some bang for my buck, so I'm going with a desktop which I'll build myself (with the help of Crimson and his leet computer skills, I'm hoping).

This required me to spend many hours scouring the interwebs to figure out how exactly a computer works and what factors I need to consider in such an endeavour, since I knew only the absolute basics before. I've decided to give you the cliff notes, in case you're in the same position as I was a few days ago and don't want to waste a bunch of time.

Disclaimer: I assume you don't know much about computers. Feel free to skip to the section you're interested in. This is a loooooong post, but will save you a lot of time if you're in a similar boat to where I was a few days ago.

My goals were:
1) Keep costs down, I'm not loaded. I'm shooting for 1500-2000 g.p. (ok not gold pieces... AUD), including the monitor.
2) Maximise future upgradeability. I don't want to have to go through all this nonsense for several years, so I want a set of components that is going to accommodate new technology.
3) Overclocking potential. If you're completely clueless, overclocking = making the various parts of your computer run faster than the factory settings (with the risk of decreasing the life of the components if you push it too far). I've never overclocked a computer before, however I intend to when the new computer eventually starts to not be able to run the latest games, so I can again get the most bang out of my buck and delay future purchase of a whole new computer.
4) Run fairly quietly, I don't want to feel like there's a jet engine in my room.
5) And most importantly, comfortably run any game out at the moment, and hopefully future games for quite some time, with the settings up fairly high.

And on to my advice:

PC vs Mac: Macs require a windows shell to be run for many games, and cost more for a given level of performance. PC all the way.

Intel vs AMD: Don't bother with AMD at the moment. The performance of their gear, dollar for dollar, is lagging behind Intel (although such was not the case 1-2 years ago I gather).


Probably the first thing you should pick. After picking this, we'll pick our RAM, and then we'll pick a motherboard that is compatible with the two.

Quad core is just not an advantage at the moment for gaming, as few if any games have built to take advantage of it. They therefore cost more than dual core, for the same performance. However, quad core will probably be the way of the future - you'll want your motherboard to be able to support it for future upgrades (see below).

So go for dual core. The particular model I've chosen is the E8500, which seems to be fast (3.16 GHz at factory speeds), is reported to overclock very well, and is not too pricy.


DDR3 is much more expensive than DDR2 at the moment. Moreover, modern CPU's are just not fast enough to take proper advantage of the faster data transfer speeds and higher bandwidth of DDR3. So, performance improves in games by around 5% or so.

There's a really nice table describing this limitation at this URL: http://www.nehalemnews.com/2008/05/editorial-need-for-imc-and-why-fsb-is.html

Basically, if the front side bus (FSB - controls how fast your CPU and RAM can communicate) is 533 Mhz or more, we will have reached the limit of what DDR2 @ 1066 MHz can achieve. Given that our chosen CPU is only 333 MHz FSB, and motherboards available at the moment only support 400 MHz FSB, DDR3 will just not be needed.

If we choose a really nice system in terms of overclocking, however, we'll be able to almost reach that limit of what DDR2 can offer (overclocking a 400MHz motherboard to 533MHz is considered pretty darn good).

You also want a respectable brand of memory, especially when overclocking. I chose Corsair, as it came highly recommended and is competitively priced.


Probably the most important part. It has to support your CPU and your RAM, or your computer isn't going to work.

Two of the main options are Intel based boards, or Nvidia based boards. The Intel boards are reported to be less buggy than the Nvidia ones, except for the most recent high end Nvidia boards (790i series). These, however, are more expensive than their Intel equivalents, so I've chosen Intel.

There are then several types. In terms of modern board options that are remotely reasonably prices, you have the P35, the P45, the X38, and the X48 models. The difference between the "P" and "X" series is primarily the support for "Crossfire". Crossfire is a technology that allows you to plug in 2 graphics cards to work together. You won't get double the output, you're looking at ~20 - 60%, usually 30-40% improvement depending on the game (the game Crysis treats Crossfire poorly, the improvement is even less here). The Nvidia equivalent is called "SLI". Crossfire is only supported on Intel boards, and SLI on Nvidia boards.

Anyway, The "X" series boards have full Crossfire support, namely, they allow both boards to operate at 16 channels. The "P" series boards on the other hand, only allow each card to operate at 8.

The actual difference this x16 vs x8 issue makes in modern games has received conflicting reports... one website reported a large difference, but several follow up tests from other sites showed neglibile difference. The consensus supports the latter viewpoint... at the moment. There is a theoretical x2 improvement in performance to be had with 16 vs 8 channels, it's just that current games don't take advantage of it.

So, an option to consider is upgradeability using Crossfire... perhaps buy one graphics card now, and when that's no longer enough, buy a second version (which will be much cheaper by then) and up your performance. If you want to go this route, you want an X series board. The X48 is an upgrade to the X38 series, they are more stable/less buggy, you'll probably want an X48 board if you choose X series.

The P series boards are preferrable if you don't want to go Crossfire (ie you just want to use a single graphics card). The reason for this is, with 1 graphics card, you get the full 16 channels, and the P45 board is also cheaper and a better overclocker than the X series. I decided to go this route and just buy 1 decent graphics card (it seemed more efficient in terms of cost vs performance).

The P45 boards are newer and apparently more reliable (along with some features I don't care much about) compared to P35. So I've decided to go with P45.

I wanted a board with good overclocking potential, and one that supports the highest FSB possible at the moment (for that future upgrade to faster quad cores that I'm sure will be out in a couple of years). I also wanted a board with high overclocking potential, to reach that magical 533 MHz mark. And one that supports DDR2 1066 MHz RAM. The Asus P5q deluxe fit all of these features, although is a little pricier than other options. I would have gone for a cheaper board, but I couldn't for the life of me find a decent review of many of the board models, and I know some are poor overclockers, so I decided not to risk getting an unknown.


I was going to make a table with the rough ranking of each GPU in terms of price and performance, but it didn't come out very well in the html. So instead:

Best performer and most expensive right now is Radeon 4870X2
Next on both counts is Nvidia GTX 280.
Radeon 4870 and Nvidia GTX 260 perform about the same. The 4870 is a little cheaper.
The Radeon 4850 and Nvidia 9800GTX perform about the same. The 4850 is a little cheaper.

So, which type of graphics card to go with? If you've gone the X48 route, you'll want ATI Radeon, since you're going to use Crossfire. An economical and popular option right now is to choose 2 4850 GPU's for Crossfire mode. They're not much worse off than 2 4870's in Crossfire in terms of performance, but cost a fair bit less.

Personally, I'm going for a single 4870. I'm just going to buy a new GPU when I need one, pretty easy upgrade to make. There's a 1GB version that hasn't been reviewed yet (only the 512 MB version has), which costs the same as a GTX260, but should perform a little better. Plus, with a Radeon GPU and my chosen motherboard, I can do Crossfire in the future if I decide to.

Be warned that 4850 GPU's run a bit hot - aftermarket cooling is recommended.

Hard Drive

Hard disk space is cheap at the moment. I wanted a Hard Drive that was going to be fast, quiet, and reasonably priced. I don't need OOOOODLES of disk space, but wanted a fair bit. I read some reviews and ended up choosing:

Western Digital Caviar 640GB WD6400AAKS

There are slightly better performing drives, but the price climbs a bit high for my care factor.

Power supply

Don't forget one! You want to run all the above stuff don't you? You need really only ~450W worth of juice to run a non-overclocked, non-Crossfire/SLI rig. If you aren't planning those fancy frills, you may as well just go for a lower rated supply like that. Many cases (see below) come with such a supply, which is a way to save a little more.

However, I want overclocking and possibly Crossfire potential, and I also want a power supply that is going to be nice and quiet. A good level of power for this is around 600W, I decided to go for a 620W supply. Several brands came in highly recommended. One of these was Corsair, and they are priced well. Model was: Corsair HX-620 620W


There are a lot of options in terms of after-market coolers (fans and heatsinks that you can install in your case in addition to or in replacement of the coolers that come with the case).

There are CPU coolers, motherboard coolers, GPU coolers, cooling paste, etc...

If you're not overclocking, and as long as you choose a fairly well ventilated case, the stock coolers you get are going to be fine. Since I'm not planning to overclock right away, I've chosen not to get any coolers yet. However, if you want to overclock from the get-go, good brands include Zalman, Coolermaster, Thermalright, Xigmatech.

An important thing to consider is whether your CPU cooler will be able to fit your system. For example, I read that several aftermarket coolers were hard to fit on my chosen motherboard due to the position of the stock heatsinks, but I read that a Xigmatek HDT-S1283 fan would fit no problems. Your best bet is just to google both the model number of your motherboard, your CPU, and something like "best cooler" and see what you can find in forums from people with similar systems.


All this stuff has to fit in somewhere right? With cheaper cases, you've got to make a choice between having a cool PC (as in temperature), which is important for overclocking, and having a quiet PC (if the PC isn't well ventilated, your fans will need to work harder, which means the PC will be louder). There are several cheap cases great for one or the other, but not both. For example, the cheap Antec cass are fairly quiet, but don't cool so well, and the cheaper Coolermaster cases are cool, but make more noise (the more expensive versions in both brands are great, but we're trying to keep costs down remember!)

I eventually went for a moderately priced case, since I'm trying to make the thing fairly quiet and want that overclocking potential. The Antec P182 came highly recommended.

Steer away from non-tower cases (they tend to be less well ventilated).

In general, try to pick cases with mounting slots for 120mm fans. Smaller fans (80mm, 90mm) have to spin faster to move the same amount of air, so are noisier.

Again, it's wise to google your case model number and see if there are any issues fitting particular coolers and power supplies in.


Some people like massive monitors. I'm not a big fan. I was going to go for a 19", but the price to go 22" isn't much more at the moment, and it'll be better for watching dvd's etc. Keep in mind that to take advantage of the resolution of a 24" monitor for gaming puts a lot bigger strain on your graphics card. When it comes to the time that your system starts to fall behind, you may end up decreasing the resolution anyway...

Now, some important things to consider for a monitor are: response time (how fast individual pixels can change), color reproduction (exactly what it sounds like), and viewing angle (you know that annoying effect with cheap LCD screens where you can't see squat if you're off to one side? This is a low viewing angle).

First of all, CRT's (those big bulky things we used to all use as monitors) beat LCD's in all counts. They also achieve better framerates, whereas LCD tops out at 60 Hz (not that you can see higher framerates than that under most conditions anyway). CRT's are also cheaper. But, let's face it, they don't look as cool. They're also hard to buy at the moment. So I'm assuming you're looking at an LCD.

Monitors have this thing called a panel. You'll hear people preach about "TN" panels vs "PVA" panels. These are different technologies. PVA is more expensive, but reproduces colors properly (24 bit color, or 16.7 million colors). TN panels on the other hand have to "dither" (blur surrounding pixels) to trick you into seeing more colors. PVA panels also have a slower response time, TN panels are quicker. TN panels also have crappier viewing angles. But, as you might have guessed, TN panels are much cheaper.

Let's break down these issues. Response time is a marketing scam. The listed times for PVA panels are maybe 8-12ms. Considering the screen can only refresh 1000/60 = every 16.7ms, it's not going to make any difference to you by using a TN screen with a 2-5ms response time.

As for the color reproduction: Most people don't know the difference. If you're a graphic artist, or someone else who needs to see colors faithfully reproduced, you need a PVA (or better) panel. Everyone else may as well stick with TN if they're looking to keep costs down. Especially since, there are few if any NON TN 22" panels on the market. To find out what sort of panel is in a monitor you're wanting to buy, try this URL: http://www.tftcentral.co.uk/panelsearch.htm

Anyway, having said all that, there are some really crappy TN based LCD monitors out there. So you're going to want to google a review of the particular monitor you want. The monitor I went for is slightly more expensive than other 22" monitors, but came highly recommended: Samsung 2243BW 22".


You can get really cheap speakers for $30 or so that sound pretty good, unless you're really picky when it comes to sound. A couple of good brands for cheap speakers are apparently Logitech and Altec Lansing. You're looking for "2.1" type speakers if you're stingy like me.

I got Logitech X-230 2.1 speakers.

Mice, keyboard, DVD drive

You're going to feel pretty dumb if you forget to order these. There aren't really a bunch of differences in cost or functionality.


Intel E8500 processor
Asus P5Q Deluxe motherboard
Corsair 2 x 2 GB RAM
Radeon 4870 (1GB) GPU
Western Digital 640GB HD
Samsung 22" monitor
Antec P182 case
Corsair 620W power supply
Logitech 2.1 speakers

Total price comes to ~1,800 g.p. (AUD).

If you have any further insights, particularly if I said something outright wrong (my level of computer knowledge a few days ago was ~10% of what it is now), feel free to share!