Saturday 3 December 2011

The death of the hybrid

One of the things I miss most about pre-Cata WOW was the freedom to experiment with different builds, to come up with the one that suited me best. The re-vamped talent trees of Cataclysm mean that you are effectively locked into one tree for a long time and can only ever access the lower levels of the other trees. Blizzard's stated reasoning for this was that:
  • many of the old talents were "must haves" for serious raiders, so they may as well be rolled up into the underlying spells;
  • by focussing people into a single tree early, it made it easier for new players to make a decision;
  • keeping players largely in one tree made it possible to give players signature abilities early on.
If anything, things will become even more extreme in Mists of Pandaria, where talent trees are eliminated altogether and each class is effectively reduced to three sub-classes, plus a few minor "froth" options, with no substantial decisions to be made beyond that.

The problem is, I liked doing the "wrong" thing. I had great fun mixing damage and healing with my restomental shaman in BC. My build wasn't optimised for a single task, as it would be for raiding, but designed to fit in well, depending on who else was available. In the days before dual-spec and dungeon-finder, being able to fill multiple slots with a single spec was both useful and fun.

I wasn't alone; there were elementalist mages, shockadins, restokin ... flexible, but sub-optimal specs were everywhere. My panzerkin druid main-healed, tanked and DPSed most of the instances up to Nexus. I wouldn't have lasted thirty seconds as a raid tank, but that wasn't the objective.

It's that right to be "wrong" that I miss, to ignore the cookie-cutter builds and go make something of my own. I don't want all my decisions made for me, I want the freedom to experiment and try out fun things. They mostly won't work, but that's fine; experimenting is fun in its own right.

Sunday 27 November 2011

That's not a chest, it's a ....

Our hero models some "leg armour" that's more "Sith Pride disco" than "Dark Overlord."
Another day, another "AAA" MMO arrives with half the player-characters sporting ludicrously oversized chests and being given "armour" that amounts to little more than a pair of Lycra hot pants. The twist is that this time it's men who are getting this treatment in SWTOR.

There are, essentially, four different male human body forms available:

1. So incredibly weedy looking that he looks like he'd suffer serious injury in a dandelion fight with Mr Muscle (that's the old-fashioned wimpy version of Mr M, by the way, not the new, errr, muscly version, which is silly. Nobody expects Mr Tickle to go around tickling people or Mr Angry to go around being cross with everyone ... they do? ... anyway, that's beside the point ... which is that it's a very wimpy look). Not fey-elf wimpy, just spindly-feeble wimpy.

2/3. Almost identical (except for size) barrel-chested monstrosities that make the steroid-abusing human males of WOW look like they really do need to work on their pecs some more. And by barrel-chested, I really do mean barrel-chested; imagine the male equivalent of Jordan, but where the silicone has been replaced by the body of an R2 unit. At least it answers the perennial MMO question of where player characters store the 37 weapons, 13 sets of armour, 9 mounts and 3214 portions of Betelgeusian string-cheese they carry around all the time. These guys have a hollow chest cavity big enough to hide a fully functioning battlestation totally-non-suspicious-don't-mind-me moon inside it.

4. A look that might charitably be described as "Captain of Industry". You know the cartoon pictures of fat-cat bankers the papers have been fond of over the last few years? Now go half-way between that and Jabba the Hutt. Then a little bit further back, but still quite flobbly ... a bit more ... that's it. Seeing an army of these guys wheezing across the battlefield is enough to strike fear into the dark heart of Darth EvilMcBastard, but only because he bears an unfortunate resemblance to a doughnut. The rest of the Sith will just shake their heads in bafflement as they slaughter them. No wonder the Republic is losing if they've let recruiting standards fall this low.

What you won't notice in that list is anything remotely resembling a normal male body shape. Whilst I'm totally in favour of having body shape diversity in the game, none of the available male character models look anything like Lando, Han, Luke or Obi-Wan, which is a bit odd in a Star Wars themed game.

Of course female players have had to put up with this sort of rubbish for a long time, but I'm not sure the right solution is to make male characters look stupid too. How about a wide range of options (including fairly ordinary) for everyone?

Thursday 1 September 2011

The one true skill

Image credit: Magefeathers on Deviant Art
Many of you out in MMO-land won't have heard of this, but WOW isn't the only game that's been undergoing something of a Cataclysm recently. The chess world has been in uproar over the changes made to that game to update it for the modern era. In case you haven't caught them, here are the key points of FIDE's announcement:
  1. There is a big problem in the chess world with people copying tactics (and in some cases entire openings) from commercially-sold guides (often written by famous players who are cashing in on their status) rather than working things out for themselves.
  2. These so-called "chess books" have become so widespread, that they've become an accepted part of the game. Even top players shamelessly copy openings devised by others, such as Alekhine or Ruy Lopez.
  3. Even worse, many players now take advantage of breaks in play to analyse their games using chess bots. Some of these are so powerful that they have beaten world champions.
  4. To counteract these problems and "bring back the skill", FIDE have decided to make radical changes to the game. The out-moded concepts of preparation and learning have been replaced by the one true form of skill: reaction speed. All chess clocks will be replaced by a device with a light on it, which will illuminate at random intervals of less than ten seconds. When the light comes on to indicate the player's turn, he or she will be required to move within 0.5 seconds or forfeit the game.
  5. Balance problems (where some pieces are clearly more powerful than others) have been resolved by making all pieces and pawns move in the same way - to any unoccupied adjacent square. A FIDE spokesman explained that the loss of "piece identity"  is the only way to ensure true balance. The cosmetic appearance of the pieces will be retained.

Sunday 28 August 2011

Goodbye Google+

I've ranted before about the intrusive nature of the real names policy in Google+. There's an excellent example of what can go wrong in this CNET article:

"If you do not edit your name to comply with the names policy by , your profile will be suspended: you will not be able to make full use of Google services that require an active profile, such as Google+, Buzz, Reader, and Picasa. This will not prevent you from using other Google services, like Gmail..."
Fortunately, there's a way round this: remove the Google+ features from your account. You can find out how to do that here. Even better, when you've done it, you get to explain your reasons for leaving, so you can make it clear that it's because of the lack of privacy.

Goodbye Google+. I'd say it was nice knowing you, but it wasn't. At no point did I find anything remotely useful there. Although, to be fair, I don't see the point of Twitter or Facebook either, so maybe I'm not the target audience.

It's good to be anonymous again.

Friday 12 August 2011

Death to the living

In recent posts by Cynwise and Shintar (and the comments associated with them), there's been an interesting debate about whether the Forsaken could be considered evil. I'm not inclined to buy the "an entire race is evil" theory, but it does raise the question of whether the leadership of the Forsaken (which is pretty much Sylvanas alone these days) are evil. At the core of this is the use of blight and the extent to which Sylvanas intends it to be employed.

Friday 5 August 2011

Hidden in plain sight

When getting over-excited about the certain-to-happen-omg-thank-you-Blizz highly speculative Mists of Pandaria expansion for WOW, I, along with some more balanced commentators got very focussed on the Pandaria bit of title.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Everybody was Kung Fu fighting...

According to MMO Champion, Blizzard have just registered "Mists of Pandaria" as a trademark. Please, please, please...

Embarrassing Carl Douglas impersonation in 5..4...3...