Sunday, January 30, 2011


I have to say I am developing an unhealthy obsession with the thought processes of the DCUO community and the strange way that they seem to rationalise matters related to the game. This is the first such community that I have looked at from its inception and the memes are fascinating. As someone who has watched other communities for a while the way people's expectations change and warp.

The first thing I have seen is some sort of real dislike and spite between the PC and the PS3 community. There are a good few posters who blame any perceived problems with the game as the fault of it sharing its platform with the PS3. 'Sacrifices' have been made to accommodate the PS3 users. Its a remarkable example of a fault-and-blame culture where someone must be blamed for their dislikes and the remote and 'different' console gamers are an easy target. Its endemic of an inability just to accept the game for what it is. It has six power slots and two 'loadouts', it has a keyboard/mouse no-click interface which allows for these minimal on-screen options. Personally I find it quite refreshing and I can now why people press buttons rather than click in WoW. The game is what it is, and you have to either accept that or not.

Another swathe of posters seem to have a very fixed idea of what a MMORPG should be, regardless of genre. I've read some impassioned pleas for a crafting system of all things? I can absolutely guarantee that in no comic I have ever read, have I seen a superhero farming for materials to make consumables or even their own equipment! That said, I have never seen a hero wearing armour pieces for bonuses either, but that happens. One particular post goes on to say that without the immersion created by player housing, crafting and more people on the streets, this is no MMORPG. I sniggered. What next? Flight points? I'll put it this way, if Brainiac was trying to take over the world I wouldn't be out browsing the shops!

The first two are pretty weak really, but the third is more serious for the longevity of the game and the genre of games into the future, I think. DCUO is a standard monthly subscription game and SOE has 'promised' monthly updates for this money. Within the community however, there seems to be an ongoing shock that the game has the audacity to charge a monthly fee for the game. It feels, in my gut, like there is a sizeable portion of the community who are waiting for the moment they can scream 'told you so' when the game goes free to play. I feel that this issue will only explode further if SOE miss one of their monthly updates. They have already added a caveat that content needs to be approved for the PS3 but you would hope that they have content stocked away for months of releases. Somehow, I doubt it. And the utter shit storm that will follow will make Shaman/Paladin or Space Goats look like a walk in the park.

I remain your DCUO correspondent, reading the forums so you don't have to!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Threads, DCUO Style

...or why this game needs RP servers, pronto.

One of the things which you do as a sideline to all of the other cool stuff in DCUO, is collect costumes. This might seem quite a strange thing, especially coming from a game like WoW where the functionality of the armour is far more important than the look, but for a superhero game, the look is paramount! The ability within DCUO to lock your look means that you can perfect it and keep it, whilst increasing your power through loot 'underneath the hood' (quite literally in some cases). To encourage you to complete these sets, successfully gathering the costumes delivers a feat and feats mean extra skill points. However, to me, the joy is being able to perfect your image. With this in mind, I present Pele at level 25

Not a huge number of differences, but to me, they are noticeable. Firstly I've added some cool goggle things for a slightly more futuristic look. These have also been accompanied by new shoulder and hand pieces (from the New Genesis set) and a belt (from the Fourth World set.) Her 'simple blades' have been replaced by 'Techno-Katanas' as well. The changes are subtle, but they add to the character overall. Now, of course some of the sets are so outlandish that you can rarely use the pieces, but I have managed to collect two of the sets and now I can present them here, in all their glory.

This is the Demonic suit (coloured to the red, white and orange of my original costume.) Its a particularly spikey affair and looks wholly impractical but it offers the perfect possibility for your character to be possessed by some sort of entity and transformed into something from beyond that man should never know.

This rather funky get-up is the 'Shielded Robot' set - a full-on elegant manga armour set with big hands and feet, smooth helment and spikey exhaust jets out of the back. Now any self-respecting Iron Man fan will be able to tell you that Shellhead has a set of armour for all weathers and this could easily be the 'edge of the atmosphere/close orbit' sort of space armour, or even stuff for underwater!

So many possibilities, so little RP in the game. It could be so much more.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

One Yea....Week Later

So, one week after install, whats the conclusion regarding DCUO?

Well, because of the unique way my work hours fall, I haven't been able to play a lot this week but a few hours today took me to level 18 (maybe 19?) after a quick detour to Gotham to tackle Harley Quinn (who dropped my first Epic!) and Poison Ivy (although I bailed before I finished her off - more on that later) and the decimation of Circe's latest attempts to Take Over the World (tm). Pele now has a pretty decent slew of powers, making the differentiation on my Defence/Damage loadouts a bit better although I do need to practice some of them a little more. Equipment is coming and doing ... stuff. I haven't quite bothered with theorycrafting! (Like I ever do?!)

So, what don't I like? There are a couple of things that spring to mind. The first is that I am remarkably squishy - or at least thats how it feels. I think I need to learn to slow down and block/dodge more but sometimes I can maul four mobs and others I get reamed by two. Its strange. By no way, shape or form a game breaker though. The second is the nature of instances. The end of each quest chain ends in your own personal instance and they are a little fruity! Lots of less-than-simple pulls, mini-bosses, sub-quests and usually a multi-phase boss fight that are like a solo version of a WoW raid boss. Great eh? Remember my squishy-ness? Death happens in here and really, the only effective healing I can muster at the moment is good old Soda Cola (healing potions). When they run out, its a very quick journey to repair-ville. So, of course, you go and get your equipment healed, right? WRONG! Because if you do that, it resets the frigging instance! So you have to (a) not die, (b) suffer multiple resets or (c) fight on without equipment. Guess which one I chose? Yup, (c) and it doesn't make that much difference except in that Poison Ivy fight which was just beyond me!

What do I like? Well, I have become used to the different interface and I am beginning to really appreciate the difference. This isn't a traditional MMO (and by that, I mean a WoW-clone) and the departures are such that you need to think very differently. The fact that you can change your loadouts whenever and wherever you are means you can customise your interface on the fly, which removes the need for loads of different taskbars. This allows for a nice clean interface and that in turn allows you to appreciate what is a very very pretty game.  Strangely, the difficulty of the game is also very pleasing. Back in Classic and TBC, WoW had elite encounters that you simply couldn't handle solo at the correct level. This formed a challenge that has been all but eliminated from the game by 'aided' elites and quirky mechanics which make them just boosted normal mobs. Being able to see an opponent - even a normal mob - and knowing that if you don't give it the respect it deserves, it will stunlock you, knock you about and knock you out is refreshing. The game demands your attention. Another thing that I like is whilst I have only relatively short amounts of time to play, I am still doing things all of the time. There is no grinding. There is no farming. There is no crafting. Its all about the action and the story. Thats very nice indeed.

There are some things that I have not done yet - I have yet to group with ANYONE and thus I have yet to do an Alert or a world boss. I'll readily admit that I cannot abide PUGing - it drives me to distraction. I will get there eventually, but I need to learn to play a little bit more.

So the verdict at the end of Week One? Its good, its tough and its pretty. Nice.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

A week or so ago, I got called arrogant and elitist for jokingly suggesting that people stop posting divisive threads on a forum. I chuckled. I've yet to venture officially onto the DCUO forums, deciding instead to lurk and read the madness as it develops. And develop it has. I wonder sometimes whether its my age, but I have never understood some of the practices that come about on these things. The levels of egocentrism and delusion that must exist in the minds of some of the posters is amazing.

I simply cannot fathom what would bring someone to waste their time posting with such passion and vitriol on subjects which anyone with two pence of common sense would know they are wasting their time contributing. Does WiggyBoggy276 really think that Sony Online Entertainment is going to completely redesign their game because he has a gripe with the way that the interface works? Do they really believe that anyone cares if they, singularly, threaten to 'leave' the game? Do they think that the best way to represent their customer service issues is on a forum where they type in l33t-speak and represent themselves as an image of the Mad Hatter?

Of course, these people have valid concerns... or do they? I mean the game is what it is, after all and whether you like it or not is the gamble the developers have taken. If you don't like it, you don't like it - thats always the case with any product. DCUO is a very different game from WoW. It has dispensed with some of the familiar tropes of MMOs and brought in some stuff from the console genre. In a world where games are readily disregarded as 'WoW Clones', this game is a very different consideration and some people could find that hard to handle.

Of course, there are also problems when it comes to expectation. A lot of people come to a game with very closed minds. Clamped down minds with deep set parameters that run from the way buttons should be pressed, the way the canon is represented and to some, the way that the game expands upon their favourite comparative game. So if the character generation isn't as intricate as CoX, the game is 'fail', if the powers cannot mimic every single power as represented in the comics, 'fail. If the game doesn't have exactly the right buttons in the right places ... fail.

I'm unsure what these ragers against the machine think they will achieve and I wonder whether they operate the same rules when it comes to other products? Do they contact the publisher of a book and demand that an aspect of character development is altered because they don't like it? Do they barrage their local supermarket with demands that the recipe on their pizza be changed, lest they cease buying pizza? Do they raise petitions for changes in the design of a new car, as they find the knobs in an inconvenient position?

And all this after less than a week. To quote a friend - People are weird!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Up! Up! and Away!

Its Super-Cheryl!!
Originally the plan was to go to the dark side and kick superhero ass. Sadly this hasn't transpired yet as Dave has managed to have all of the worlds technical problems happen at the same time. I hope you get it fixed soon mate! In the meantime I have been pottering about on the (at the time of character creation) only EU PVE server. I'm glad I chose PvE after seeing some of the game as I think PvP would be a charnel house! My character, above, is 'Pele' (as in the Polynesian goddess of Fire, not the Brazilian footballer!) who sports a Fire/Dual Wield/Flight/WonderWoman combination.The costume set-up is straight from the character creation system with no additional bits and bobs. Since this shot I've added some 'New Gods' gloves, belt and shoulders which make her look a little more streamlined and a little less StreetDance 3D.

Nominally in my brain, I have her as some sort of exchange student who believes she is possessed by the spirit of the goddess (rather than mutated by the Exobyte virus thingys - I have no idea how Brainiac is supposed to have triggered mystical powers, but he has!). So, who has she tackled? Well, she fought alongside Zatanna (never a chore...) against Felix Faust, she had a right nasty tussle with the Titans against a possessed Raven and she has recently battered Giganta senseless with Wonder Girl.

This game is not easy (for me) and I have hit a pretty stern learning curve, but what is nice is I am learning. I can feel my grasp of the controls growing and that means I can unleash more destruction, faster and more accurately. I like that the game is challenging me in ways that other games have not. Downside? I spend a lot on repairs!

Oh, I also got the tour of the JLA Watchtower. Its almost worth the price of admission! One final note - its nice to see that somethings never change. Clearly the architects from WoW have come across here as most of the police stations have that familiar 'enter and hit a brick wall, which you have to walk around to carry on' business that the WoW buildings have. Bizarre.

Friday, January 14, 2011


The new shiney is here and it is DC Universe Online, the latest attempt by SOE to wow the MMO market (hehe, see what I did there...). After Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies, Pirates etc. we know that SOE know something about the MMO genre and after Champions and City of Heroes/Villains there are some expectations of the superhero genre too. Hey, after reading the comics for decades, I have my own expectations!

I got the game through a new source - - and the process was reasonably easy. There was some issues with phone verification of credit cards but I eventually just used my paypal account to pay and left it downloading overnight. I woke up expecting a nightmare, but after a small driver patch I was playing the game. Whoo hoo. Thats about as smooth as I could expect so I am very pleased.

The game itself is different from the other MMOs I have played and it took a little time to accustom myself to the controls. Essentially you move with the WASD keys but you steer with the mouse. This works very well for flight etc. but I have had to get used to not pressing the mouse keys when doing this. Powers are activated using the number keys and weapons attacks are accessed via combos of mouse clicks. I find this a lot of fun. All of the crucial keys are around the WASD interface and this too appeals to me as a newbie-non-clicker.

I'll go into the aesthetics of the game in another post - here I want to talk about the experience and how it impacts upon my perceptions of the game. The game, essentially, has all of the staples you would expect from a MMO (except an Auction House, which was not included from beta) and operates in much the same format as many MMOs - with quests, reputations and the standard four quest types (kill x, collect x, find x, escort x). All of this is wrapped up in a very action orientated interface with a LOT of combat involved. Which is FANTASTIC. Kicking ass and taking names is a very good thing to do and this game does it well. I've even had some mid air battles which were great!

However, this familarity has lead to some downsides. I've come to the game from WoW - a game that I can confidently say I have a decent grasp of many of the mechanics and I can even more confidently say I could walk around with my eyes closed. Now, I am faced with a new world and its filled with uncertainty. Will the things I expect be there when I want them? Will there be an endgame? Will there be sufficient content? Its a curious set of thoughts considering I have had the game installed for all of one day but it is a sense of foreboding that a number of people seem to be sharing. We shall see. I am reminded of the fact that Dire Maul was not in the original launch of WoW, of you know what I mean.

This leads me nicely to the community and how it has panned out. Guess what? Its the same old bitching, complaining, entitled bunch of doomsayers as you get everywhere. To highlight one example, there are no official RP servers (yet) so a bunch of RP guilds ganged together and after some consultation decided to announce a couple of servers as the (un)official RP servers. Now, whenever they do it, someone will pipe up 'Who told you that? Who decided that? You can't tell me which servers have been unofficially chosen! You're not the boss of me!!' - its laughable.

Finally there is some teethgrinding about the designation of the game as a roleplaying game, as in an MMORPG-style of roleplaying (i.e. none). Its too action-orientated to be a RPG, surely, people are saying. Which implies that to be a RPG, you have to be slow, ponderous and dull. Again, I laughed.

Looking good so far.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Zombie Apocalypse!

'Created' by Stephen Jones

It is not often that I mention books that I am reading never mind review them. Thats mostly because not everyone is as absorbed with Napoleonic military fiction as I am, mind you! However, sometimes I am moved to mention something and this is one of those times. I picked up 'Zombie Apocalypse!' on a whim last week and I read it in under 24 hours. Thats always a sign of a good book in my eyes. The tome tells the tale of ... well, a zombie apocalypse, through transcripts of modern media - emails, tweets, blogs etc. as well as more traditional means with diaries, police reports etc.

Sound familiar? Well yes, I thought so too, as it in theory treads the same ground as World War Z by Max Brooks right? Well, yes and no. Technically yes, but the scope and tone of this is different. If WWZ was presented as a hollywood blockbuster, then ZA! is a BBC2 mini-series. It has a very British tone and indeed, in my opinion, the book begins to loose some of its lustre when 'the Death' spreads around the world.

Another interesting aspect of the book for me is that it is quite possibly the first piece of post-coalition fiction I have seen! The backdrop of a broken Britain being distracted from an increasingly oppressive state by the bread and circuses of a New Festival of Britain has to have some mirrors in the real world difficulties of the country, the discussions of mainland water cannons in response to student protests and the imminent media maelstrom over the 2012 Olympics?

The book is an anthology and as such, there are some differing levels of quality within the writing. Some of it is spine-chillingly good. The 'Diary of Anne Frank' style memoirs of a 13-year old girl and the typed memories of a woman trapped in the tower block are excellent, for example. On the other hand there are some that are filled with rather clumsy exposition - especially the police report of the first outbreak, which cannot work out whether it is fiction or report. I have read some criticism about the likelihood that people really would text someone as they are being besieged by zombies ... but I think they might well, in a world so obsessed with instant information channels.

If there is a real downside to the book, it is when it tackles other areas of the world. This only happens in the last third of the book but here, some of the stuff didn't have much traction with me - except for the stuff in Mexico, which was very good indeed. The American stuff however? Yawn. Another thing I would say is that I really REALLY did not like the end of the book. I won't spoil it but if you want to have a decent ending, just miss out the last two pieces - an address from the President of the USA and the Queen.

This is not a happy book. I cannot remember one truly happy ending to any of the pieces. It achieves something for me which WWZ did not. It took me out of that arrogant 'roleplayers 1-0 zombies' mode and made me think what it would actually be like to have to deal with say, children, during a zombie attack. It made me consider some of the practicalities in a wholly different way and it made me realise that whilst we all like to think we would be able to put our theoretical knowledge into practice, we would all almost certainly fail. Thats a kind of bleak mental horror that does it for me more than any amount of gore.

Not a great work of literature, but a great read and currently available at Waterstones as part of their '3 for 2' deal, so a good pick up to make up your numbers there.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Gaming Resolutions 2011

And the final part of the now traditional triumvirate of posts is here. I absolutely detest the expectation and madness that occurs around New Year and until I started doing these had never been drawn to make any resolutions in my life. However, these statements of intent have been very useful for forming up my thoughts about what I want from my gaming.

As an aside, you will note they only cover gaming. A lot of the hobbies which plagued me at the start of this blog have faded to black over the years. I no longer play CCGs, I'm only really buying a couple of comic titles now, I have officially 'retired' from fan fiction and wrestling is something that occasionally gets put on when there is nothing else to watch. Gaming is pretty much my Number One hobby nowadays, in its varied forms.

So without further ado:

Number One: Game More
As gaming is now my number one and only real hobby, I really would like to do it more than once a fortnight at best. I have sated my need for more gaming through other means over the years; fanfic, efeds, RP servers on WoW, PBEM, PBF, PBGwave... you name it. My gaming group have experimented with 'Group Two' - an occasional midweek group - and that would definitely be something that I would like to pursue again. However, if that cannot work I might have to throw my net a little wider. However, as noted below, I have to watch the balance of my time. I just feel that I want to do more of the hobby that I enjoy so much but I don't really have to tools to do so at the moment.

Number Two: Fold or Twist with Omnihedron
Big changes on the self-publishing front this year - Collective Endeavour is still around but its pretty much not going to be functional as a sales conduit. Additionally, I've made a decision to have some time off from the convention circuit to recharge my batteries a little and just to spend some time at home. This gives me the time to assess whether I want to continue with the self-publishing - specifically with the Empire! line of books - into the coming years, or whether I should just bow out at the top, so to speak. I really enjoy the self-publishing thing but I've done all I can at this level now. Pushing it up to the next one would require quite a bit of work on my part and I have to consider the time and effort required and whether there would be a reasonable return on my 'investment'. That said, I have some unfinished business - starting with 'Vive L'Empereur' and then ....

Number Three: Duty & Honour V2.0
Regardless of the outcome of Resolution Two, I will publish D&Hv2 this year. There are a number of reasons, but the overriding one is that I know that with some lessons that I have learned through BtQ and the feedback I have received from other people, I can make it a much much better game than it is at the moment. With that settled, I can then make a proper decision with regard to continuing with the company and the entire game publishing thing. Now, anyone out there raising some cynical eyebrows about this being some sort of market-squeezing scam can return to your normal non-Vulcan appearance. I'm going to endeavour to make it all as painless as possible for people who already have the game, somehow. Haven't quite worked it out yet like, but I will.

Number Four: Run Another Game
Dresden Files was a success and the new format or running relatively short runs of games seems to be one that we are happy with at the moment, so my aim will be to run another game this year at some point in time. Indeed, if Resolution One holds true, I might run it sooner rather than the scheduled slot after Nigel and Dave. Currently I'm working through some of my issues with superhero games via the medium of ICONS and its going quite well. There has to be some sort of irony that the fact that I have almost stopped reading comics has opened the door for me to explore them in the RPG sense!

Number Five: Time Management
Time is my perennial enemy. I never have enough time and I am always having to shave things here, there and everywhere. Horrifically, for me, one of the things that began to lose in the war with time at the end of last year was reading books! That soon changed over the holidays but it was a little wake-up call. Now, things should get a little easier soon as I will be getting my Tuesday nights back soon when my course eases up. Similarly, I am getting a little more disciplined about my marking. However, on the horizon is a more stringent marking regime and the probability of some course design coming along which is going to eat up my time. However, I know I need to get some more time available for other stuff. So I have to work smarter and think about what is eating my time. One of the things that I have in my sights at the moment are a number of facebook and online games that I play which are not delivering palpable returns in terms of pleasure. They could get the chop to make way for other stuff. I'm simply going to have to be more disciplined.

(Unofficial) Number Six: Continue Avoiding Toxicity
This year has been a bit of a watershed for me, in that I removed myself from any sort of online grief and strife. Fora which have caused me crap have been kicked to the digital curb with ruthless abandon and anything I have posted has been edited to ensure that they are constructive, positive and not spikey. It has resulted in a very pleasant online year. Reading back on some of my old posts, especially right at the beginning of the blog, I was shocked with the amount of crap I put up with - not anymore! So this resolution gets promoted into a continued behaviour. Thats a very good thing!


As David Bowie once stuttered.

I'm going to be fiddling with the format of the old blog over the next few days as I continue bringing the bloody thing back to life. I appears that in the five years since I started (Is it really that long?), Blogspot have got their arse together and offered up an absolute smorgasbord of tinkering options. This is a good thing.

There are some more fundamental changes going to be made as well - namely, I need a new title. You see, when I started this blog, I used to drink quite a lot, so viewing life 'though the bottom of a glass' was quite an appropriate title. However, three years ago, I stopped drinking alcohol and therefore its a little disingenuous to continue with the title. 'Through the bottom of a mountain of marking' would be more appropriate at the moment, but thats not going to hold.

Similarly, my strapline, about being the musings of a 30-something whatever, is going to have to change as I turn 40 in a couple of weeks. Again, an update is required!