Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Must Be This High To Ride: GW2

Small sparks of GW2 news continue to sputter and spit from the embers of PAX Prime, starting scattered brush-fires across the blogosphere. For example, we learn from Colin Johanson that the coming of raids does not presage the addition of any kind of Raid Finder functionality to the game.

Of course it doesn't. That would be far too easy. And too like WoW. It would also undermine the uphill-in-the-snow-both-ways, harder than thou ethos of the new GW2. After all, raids are

"intended to be coordinated endgame content, not something a PUG can tackle" (MassivelyOP's paraphrase of something Johanson said) and

"We have content that you don’t have to group for and some that you can do in ad hoc groups. Basically, you can go anywhere you want to join in with other players already." (An actual Johanson quote).

Or, if you will, "Get lost, scrubs. Go back to petting quaggans in Lion's Arch and throwing snowballs at those Norn kids in Wayfarers. This is content for real gamers." (Me, taking umbrage).

A raidfinder would be kinda pointless anyway, since we already have our own ramshackle but perfectly effective LFG tool. It's been taken closer to heart than any similar player-controlled grouping mechanism I've encountered elsewhere and no doubt it will get plenty of use for raids. It's not making up 10-man groups that's going to be an issue, it's what you do with them when you've got them.

Jewel has an absolutely fantastic rant up in which she rips into ANet mercilessly over their radical change of direction. I hope someone at the company reads it and passes it around.

It's wasted on those of us still trying to cobble some kind of shelter together out of the wreckage of the game. We shuffle and cough and make excuses and work out coping strategies while all around us the barbarians tear down the walls and butcher the innocent. Kind of like Neebo Terrace gone global.

Can't do better than quote Jewel's final summation:

"I just don’t get why they keep feeling the need to change their game further and further away from the original vision. The vision I, and many other people fell in love with. A design that was unique and a breath of fresh air within the industry."

Me neither. And we can't even blame it on pressure from big, bad NCSoft any more. According to ANet president Mike O'Brien:

"ArenaNet is taking over the publishing of Guild Wars 2".

Wait? What? What does that even mean? They're still owned by NCSoft aren't they? So what does being their own publisher give them that they don't have now? What does a games publisher actually do anyway? I feel this ought to be a big thing but I don't know why. Or how.

I'm close to having had enough of all this. The very best news to come out of the whole sorry affair, possibly the only good news, is the confirmation that "moving forward, everything brand-spanking new coming to the game will be specifically designed for players who have bought Heart of Thorns" and that the "story itself has moved to Maguuma", meaning "new Living World updates will happen over there".

Why's that good news? Because it means they are going to leave the rest of Tyria the hell alone, that's why!

"After the announcement of HoT, many players were concerned that the old game content would be left in the dust. Unfortunately, that is partially true."

Wait, let me just correct that for you...

"After the announcement of HoT, many players were hoping that the old game content would be left in the dust. Unfortunately, that is only partially true".

Even as I wrote this some more bad news arrived, Well, news about news. More content I don't want and won't use for me to ignore, I imagine. I'm getting good at that now. I should be. I'm getting enough practice. 

If it wasn't for the SMS requirement I'd be making a F2P account right this minute, just to guarantee that I can go on living in my blinkered, siloed, tunnel-visioned, rosy-tinted spectacled, old-school bubble. Given that I don't own a mobile phone I'll just have to settle for my two non-HoT accounts when I need to go to my Safe Place.

 How long before the demands for a "Classic" GW2 server begin?

Monday, 31 August 2015

And...Relax : Blaugust

I almost went with Glad It's All Over for a title but, really, it wasn't that bad. Also Blogger doesn't allow hyperlinks in the title so it would have been a waste of an opportunity to link to my favorite band of all time (Dolly Mixture of course, not Captain Sensible, great though he is in his own way).

Ahem...why don't I go out and come in again...

Blaugust is over. It was a month-long party and now as we say our thank-yous to our exhausted host, Belghast, we'll find out who has the worst hangover and who's still feeling chipper. Wilhelm managed to post 42 times out of 31, presumably as some kind of tribute to the late Douglas Adams. He also has a full list of all the participating blogs in case anyone doesn't want to navigate around Anook to find them.

I didn't, which is the primary reason Inventory Full isn't on that list. Last year Blaugust kind of crept up on me and I didn't even think about participating. This year I gave it some serious consideration but it was the imposing formality of the entrance requirements, particularly joining Anook, that put me off.

For some reason I find Anook quite scary. I think it's the name. What does it mean? It reminds me of some ancient Babylonian demon that might be found lurking in the shadows of a small generic New England town on a designated public holiday.

Anyway, for whatever reason I decided not to sign up but instead to shadow the event and find out, largely to satisfy my own curiosity, whether I could post every day and if so whether I'd enjoy it. Well, the answers are "yes" and "not really".

Like Wilhelm, I had absolutely no problem generating ideas for posts. My goals going in, to the extent that I had any, were to post every day for a month and not post anything I wouldn't have posted in a normal month. That turned out to be easy.

There was no need to refer to any of the Blaugust memes or prompts for inspiration. I enjoyed reading other peoples' takes on the various topics but my own problem, far from not knowing what to write about, is always having too many topics and not enough time. On a number of days I'd have liked to have done two or even three posts but I had to force myself to resist temptation or I'd never have gotten to play any games!

Part of my motivation, ironically, was to win back more game time by posting more frequently. I was hoping the daily discipline would teach me to write shorter, snappier pieces, ones that take 30-60 minutes to finish instead of the two-to-four hour essays that are the norm here.

Well, that was a fail! Almost every post this month was somewhat rushed and not as long-winded overwritten well-constructed as I'd have wished. Instead of writing shorter pieces I ended up writing longer pieces faster, which really isn't an improvement.

On balance I think I'd prefer to take four hours over something every couple of days than two hours every day. What I'd certainly prefer is not to be posting on every day when I work. There just isn't time in the evening to do a proper blog post and play games and relax and wind down. If I could post at work or if I was retired or on holiday then sure, every day would be fun. On my current schedule it's not.

That I expected. What surprised me was the effect posting every day had on my traffic. Early in the month I observed that Blaugust appeared to be having a markedly negative impact on my page views. It was the opposite of what most Blaugustians were experiencing and I put that mostly down to my not being part of the official event.

As the month wore on things normalized; to a degree. The picture is slightly warped by the fact that July 2015 was, for reasons I don't pretend to understand, my best month ever for page views. August was always likely to slip back some.

What's absolutely, undeniably obvious, however, is that, as Azuriel observed, posting more often does not guarantee more traffic. I posted almost exactly twice as frequently and racked up twice as many posts as a normal month and the best spin you could possibly put on the results is that it made no difference at all to how many people read them.

Neither did increased activity generate more comments, my own preferred indicator of the health of the blog when it comes to readership. Comments ticked along much as usual. There were some new names which is fantastic - I love having regular commenters and value every one but fresh blood is always exciting. Hmm... that didn't come out quite right...

Anyway, it's done and it was enjoyable enough - for a given value of enjoyment. I'll be very happy to get back to a more natural schedule of posting when I have something to say (constantly and all the time) and when I have time (days when I'm not working).

I'll also be quite relieved if everyone else slows down a bit too because, unlike Murf, I do want to go on reading everything in my Feedly and blog roll on the day it appears. This month, for the first time in a long while, I've had to skim read posts I'd normally read carefully and skip some blogs altogether just because there aren't enough hours in the day.

If Belghast runs Blaugust again next year I'll think very carefully before deciding whether to join in but if I do I'll go the whole hog even if it means signing up to whatever new-fangled social media seven-day wonder is the hotness in Summer 2016. I just hope it doesn't involve neural implants.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Watching Hotbars For Fun And Profit (But Mostly Fun)

Mercury at Light Falls Gracefully has a very interesting post up concerning the qualitative and subjective differences between those games whose combat mechanics demand you focus directly on what you can see your enemies doing and the ones that require you pay close attention to the UI instead. He describes the two approaches, neatly, as first-person and third-person (not to be confused with first and third person perspective, of course).

By and large, using these definitions, the two waves of 3D MMORPGs that followed first Everquest and, later, WoW  fall into the static, UI-focused third-person category. The last few years, beginning  at the point when, arguably, developers gave up trying to build their WoW-killers and instead began to scratch around for other ways to make money for their investors, have seen the genre move towards a much more action-oriented, visually-keyed, first-person approach.

My own original experience of online 3D gaming came with Everquest. It was only fifteen years ago but looking back it seems almost impossible to believe that at the time, like most players, I saw Norrath through the curved screen of a 15" CRT monitor. What's more, the moving image of the gameworld itself only showed up in a rectangle smaller still, set inside a frame that housed the UI that dominated the entire play experience. (That's the image at the top of the post. I don't have any screenshots from that period so I borrowed that one from The Druid's Grove).

It's no wonder we were all trained to treat the UI as paramount. It was pretty much all we could see. Especially if you happened to play a healer. When I first discovered what I still consider to be my true metier, main healing for a group, even that small window onto the world went away.

Killing the easy version of Feydedar for someone's epic.
This is apparently a raid though you'd hardly know it from that UI.
My SK is not in shot. He's the one saying "feared" at the end. I think he fell in the sea. Good thing he wasn't main tank.

Tucked into the corner of a room just inside Back Door at the Sarnak Fort in Lake of Ill Omen with my group relying on me to keep them alive, I'd spend most of the fight sitting down, desperately meditating to regain mana. In front of me all I'd see on my monitor would be my open spellbook and the UI. I'd stare at the health bars of my party and try to scry their fortunes, judging when to stand, cast a heal and sit back down again.

I loved it. It had such purity. It was so calming and yet so exciting all at once. It was zen healing. I was very annoyed when, not all that long after I'd begun my career as a healer, SOE did away with the full-screen spellbook and at last allowed healers the pleasure of seeing what was killing the overnuking wizard rather than having to divine it from his screams.

Of course, I soon got used to having that blindfold taken off and it would be crazy to pretend I'd willingly have put it back on. When I got my first horse, with the arrival of the Shadows of Luclin expansion (we had to go to the moon before we got mounts), I didn't even have to sit down to med any more and I liked that even better. But always, always I had to watch that UI.

As the amusing Little Healer app seeks to remind us, healing in MMOs is all about those bars. I miss that kind of healing a lot, although whether I still have the self-discipline and patience to do it night after night, month after month, I somewhat doubt. I enjoyed a small, brief resurgence in FFXIV a couple of years back but it wasn't enough to pull me away from GW2's "every man for himself" anarchy.

Tanking again. Somewhere in Velious. No idea what's going on but it's very unusual to have the group window on the right. Would never have done that as a cleric. Apparently taking screenshots was also something I never did as a cleric. Off-tanks have all the time in the world to admire the scenery.

It didn't stop at healing though. Playing EQ didn't just show me what adventuring in a virtual world could be like. It showed me what it should be like. I learned to use the cursor keys to move. I learned to click hot keys to cast spells. I learned to stand still and not jump about while I was fighting. I learned to press Num Lock to auto-run, F10 to hide the UI and Numpad Minus to take a screenshot.

It was a language and over the course of five years or so I attained something like fluency. So much so that after about a decade and a half pretty much the only preferences I've changed willingly are using WASD (which I think I probably picked up around 2009, when I first played WoW), moving while casting (got that from Vanguard) and dodge-rolling (GW2 of course). And even in GW2 I dodge roll by clicking the hotbar.

Most of the other attempts by developers to get me to play MMOs as though they were proper video games I have stalwartly resisted. It's not that these mysteries are beyond me. I can do it if I'm motivated. I enjoyed DCUO and Neverwinter and ESO among others. Just not enough to play them for more than a month or two. It gets to be hard work and I don't like hard work all that much. Especially not when it's dressed up as fun.

Sometimes I get to have my own way. In WildStar, where Carbine would love me to watch the action not the UI and have even tried to make it more palatable by turning the action into a UI all of its own, with telegraphs that cover the screen every time anyone does anything at all, the first thing I've done is switch them all off. I even worked out how to put my dodges onto the hotbar so if, heaven forbid, I ever need to dodge anything (hasn't happened yet but I expect it will) I can click on those as nature intended instead of doing that weird double-tap thing.

Classic solo set-up from my magician on Stromm back near launch. Here she's invised watching some hot NPC on NPC action. And given that fire elemental, probably about to take an unexpcted faction hit.

I don't believe a third-person, UI-centered approach is innately superior (alright, maybe I do, just a little...). It's mostly that it's far more comfortable, relaxing, enjoyable and, yes, distant. And I want it to be distant. It's my character having these adventures, not me. He can have the adrenalin rushes. I don't want them. I'm happy floating somewhere overhead and a little behind, pointing and making suggestions. That's what I'm here for.

Having to watch all the tells, read all the signals, react in real time to fragments of the visual storm rather than just letting it burst around me like a fantastic firework display is too intense, too involving, too stressful. Frankly it's more effort than I'm prepared to put in for the sake of entertainment. I'm not so jaded I need that level of stimulation. It's so much easier and just nicer all round to read the UI and take it from there.

So, when Colin Johansen pops up with his mantra of thrills, spills and chills it makes me want to switch off and go do something more boring instead. Like topping up a health bar. That never gets old.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

A Fork In The Road : GW2

So now we know. The Future of Guild Wars 2 is ten-man instanced raids that reward Legendary armor with stats no different from Ascended. Beginning with one raid two weeks after the launch of Heart of Thorns and building from there.

The full details are on the new, highly irritating, overwrought Heart of Thorns website. The PAX presentation this time round was a lot sharper than the last one I watched, or at least it was once I managed to get shot of the warm-up stream's hosts, with their unbelievably awful music that sounded like ELP failing to get to grips with early 90s drum'n'bass.

Colin Johanson was fairly clear and concise on the new raid setup. There was one point where he seemed to be wandering off-message and I thought for a moment he was telling us that all the existing world bosses and dynamic events were going to be revamped as raids but I am 99% sure I misheard that part.

Prior to the show, Jeromai felt he needed to consider his own future with the game based on his fear of what raids might do to it. I feel much the same over the whole new direction. The mantra is "harder, more challenging, group content" whereas, given a choice, I'd opt for  "easier, less challenging, solo-friendly". I'm out of sync with the zeitgeist apparently.

That said, adding raiding, in and of itself, means nothing to me. Many MMOs I've played and enjoyed over the years have had a full-on raid-based endgame. i just ignore it. I can very easily ignore GW2's as well.

The problem comes with just how much of the game I'm now planning to ignore once the expansion lands on October 23. I already ignore both dungeons and fractals. I mostly ignore Dry Top and Silverwastes and their associated map-wide, sequential events. I ignore Three-Headed Wurm.

The prospect of four new maps (and yes, it's now confirmed there are just four, which is it at the low end of the speculation curve that followed the earlier "several") that all operate like Silverwastes on steroids means it's pretty likely that, while I definitely won't ignore them, at most I'll explore them once each and then never visit them again unless I'm driven to do so for the new Personal Story and the next Living Story arc. If there is one.

As for Guild Halls, they appear to be entirely out reach. I have a great antipathy for the entire concept of guilds in MMOs other than very, very small family and friends guilds. I don't intend to join a large guild just to rattle around in a ruin in the jungle so that's probably more content from HoT that I can safely ignore.

The new WvW maps do look intriguing but reading the website spiel reminds me just how PvE-oriented they appear to be. I'd forgotten that whole "chase dinosaurs for power cores every three hours" bit. We'll see how that works out. I wouldn't be surprised to see those mechanics getting roundly ignored if one server is dominant. WvW players have a long record of skipping whatever PvE content they're asked to do unless it involves hammering on a keep door.

That leaves the Mastery system, the Specializations and the new Revenant class, all of which fall towards the innoffensive-but-not-particularly-interesting-either end of the spectrum. I've already pre-bought the expansion and, while I'm confident of getting my money's worth just from the initial exploration and the new stuff to see and do, it seems increasingly unlikely there'll be anything there that will hold my attention once the novelty wears off.

Which makes the other half of the Big Reveal, F2P for the base game, feel all the more significant. The real big surprise of the day for me was that the transition to F2P is effective immediately. If you've wanted to play GW2 for three years but were never willing to get your wallet out even for the 75% off sales then now's your chance. Come on, there must be someone...

There's a FAQ that gives the typical F2P/Sub comparison table we're used to from other conversions, although in this case it's actually a F2P/B2P split. There's no Premium Membership. Most of the expected restrictions aimed at preventing goldspam and trolling are in place - chat rules, level-locks on specific content and areas, controlled access to trade et cetera. It was particularly reassuring to see that characters on F2P accounts will need to level all the way to 60 before they can enter WvW.

Given how likely it seems that most of my (probably soon to be heavily reduced) time in GW2 post-expansion will be spent in Pact Tyria, the move to F2P ought to work in my favor. There must have been a danger that the old world maps would have become heavily de-populated as ANet pushed everyone into the jungle and directed all their development time there. At least a steady flow of F2P players should keep the World Boss trains running.

Like Kaozz, my favorite part of GW2, the one thing that really sets it apart from all the other MMOs I've played (apart from early Rift), is the wealth of drop-in, easy access, really huge-scale fights. I just love to be in a huge horde of people with a thousand spells going off at once, all piling on to a single boss with a gazillion hit points. That's far closer to my idea of a "raid" than ten people in a private room learning dance steps. With luck F2P might at least keep that dream going for a while longer.

One odd crumb of information that might have got more attention on another day was the news that there are only two more beta events, including next weekend's. Frankly, that sounds nuts. The content we saw last time was buggy as hell. All the new specializations have been massively revised after each outing. I find it next to impossible to believe the thing is anywhere even close to being ready.

When you think of how much content there is that we have never seen and are now clearly never going to see prior to launch I have no expectation whatsoever of most of it working. It's 55 days til the expansion goes live. It feels like it needs another three months. Or maybe six.

Oh well. It will be what it will be. I am as sure as I can be about anything that hasn't happened yet that I'll be playing GW2 until it stops or I do. I'll be cherry-picking the bits that suit my tastes and playstyle, though, and the chances of that providing the kind of full MMO meal it has for the last three years seem pretty darn slim.

Never mind. As Jeromai said "...that situation isn’t the end of the world. Just the end of me playing one game". Or, in my case, playing one game quite as much.

Friday, 28 August 2015

GW2 Goes F2P...Or Does It?

Right after I finished yesterday's post about the new Daredevil specialization for the Thief this dropped into my Feedly. Not an hour before I'd been at Claw of Jormag, where map chat was busy with arguments over whether GW2 was about to go F2P and, if it was, whether the sky would fall.

With the full authority of ignorance I opined to Mrs Bhagpuss that it would make no sense for ANet to start giving the base game away. What would be the point? Apparently there was some rumor going around but you know how these things are. People will make up anything.

Well apparently it's more than a rumor or so IGN reckon:

That's the tweet that started it all. Now deleted at source, as is the official ANet trailer that appeared briefly and which I haven't seen. Supposedly, that suggested the plan was far more sweeping than just another version of the extremely limited Free Trial that that_shaman datamined last year.

There's a substantial reaction thread on the forums but it's by no means a threadnought...yet. Anet themselves have said nothing although there's hardly anything unusual in that. Their Big Announcement is only a day away in any case and with the cat at least poking its head out of the bag the best way they have to maintain tension is neither to confirm nor deny.

The timing of this announcement is interesting. As of today all new accounts for GW2 will require SMS or similar authentication. The requirement is waived for all accounts made before that date. I would imagine that would be a useful control tool for eliminating or pursuing  botting accounts.

They shall not pass!

The two big fears in the community at present seem to be a vast influx of bots, trolls and hackers and the complete collapse of the economy. Somewhat ironically in my opinion, given that GW2 is a B2P game that has had two extremely cheap box sales already, the feeling seems to be that F2P players are entirely different in attitude, ethics and morals to the people already playing.

That last seems to me to be mostly fear of the other. Having played a multiplicity of MMOs under just about all payment models for years now I would say there's very little to choose between any of them in terms of the communities. If pushed I'd say subscription games tend to have the most difficult and abrasive communities and not only for a new player.

On botting it should be remembered that GW2 had an absolutely appalling problem with bots during the first three months after launch. Mrs Bhagpuss and I went on holiday at the peak of the infestation and talked seriously about whether we would leave GW2 when we came back because the botting issue was making the game unplayable.

You've ruined your own lands...

That was when the game was only available at full price. ANet claimed they were working on a solution and it turned out they were. By the time we returned from holiday most of the bots were gone and within six months they were all gone. I haven't seen a single bot in about two years.

So, I can't see the payment model change bringing in waves of bots. As for the economy the issue there appears to be the daily log-in rewards, which can be used to obtain items, mostly crafting mats, that sell for a lot of money on the Trading Post. The fear is that people will create scores of F2P accounts, nab all the log-in rewards and crash the market.

I'm pretty sure GW2's in-house economist John Smith will already have thought of that one. If the base game does go fully F2P I imagine we have yet another revamp of dailies to look forward to.

For now I feel sanguine about this. I have three accounts and only one of them is going to get Heart of Thorns added to it. I'll have the option of playing with or without F2P players around me but I imagine most of my time will be spent down there in the base game with the unwashed hordes so how they handle the changes will very much affect me.

The devil will, as always, be in the details. I guess we'll find out tomorrow whether the sky really is about to fall.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Speak Of The Daredevil : GW2

The Heart of Thorns specialization for the Thief class was officially announced today, although anyone who cares probably heard about it a couple of days back, when most of the details were data-mined and posted on Reddit. Even those of us who weren't really paying attention could hardly avoid hearing about it, since speculation and scuttlebutt about the new Elite sub-classes is common currency in map chat most days.

At The Frozen Maw last night someone asked what people thought of the new Daredevil, which is what the new spec is called. It does seem an odd choice. The conversation rapidly spiralled into a heated discussion over whether Daredevil uses a staff or nunchucks with the participants clearly at cross-purposes over whether we were talking about the upcoming addition to the game or the guy in the comics.

For me, as a lifelong comics fan, it was Matt Murdock, Marvel's blind superhero that came immediately to mind. He was created in the 1960s by Stan Lee and Bill Everett, which I remembered as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby until I fact-checked. I would have been a demon on the New Yorker back in the day! On second thoughts maybe not... they didn't have Wikipedia back then, did they? The wiki entry does mention "an unspecified amount of input" from Jolly Jack, though, so I wasn't entirely off the money.

Daredevil was always a second-string hero until Frank Miller's (and David Mazzuchelli's) seminal run on the series in the 1980s. The name has been pretty well nailed down ever since because of that, despite the best efforts to the contrary by one of the least successful Marvel movie adaptations a decade ago. That disgrace has since been largely wiped from memory by the current well-received tv show but whether GW2's thiefly version will be able to shake itself free from the baggage attached to the name remains to be seen.

Mrs Bhagpuss probably couldn't pick Daredevil out of a line-up but having read the skill set
she has her own take on where we've seen it all before. When I got into game tonight and grouped up for the Jungle Wurm daily she asked "Did you hear thieves are going to be EQ monks?".

And yes, now that I read the details, the whole thing does have a monkly sheen. This part especially:

"Fist Flurry: Strike your enemy multiple times. If all attacks hit, gain access to Palm Strike.

Palm Strike: Strike your enemy once to deal massive damage and stun your enemy, marking them with a Pulmonary Impact. After a few moments, Pulmonary Impact delivers a second blow. This ability cannot critically hit enemies".

Isn't that D&D's Quivering Palm?

Indeed, the whole staff-wielding warrior-acrobat thing pretty much screams "Shaolin Monastery" (unless it screams "Friar Tuck"... no, he was hardly an acrobat, was he?). I'm not sure it's something I'd have associated with fantasy thieves. There's a crossover when it comes to stealth I guess but then we're going to be obligated to start talking ninjas and no-one wants that.

Whether we're getting Matt Murdock or Shang Chi, it's probably all going to remain hypothetical as far as I'm concerned. I might have a level 80 thief but I haven't got the first clue how to play one. I never got on with the monk class in Everquest either, unlike Mrs Bhagpuss, who had a max level monk back in the PoP era. About all I remember was "You have fallen to the ground" ten thousand times as I tried to train up Feign Death and not being able to loot any copper pieces because of the weight penalty.

So that's thief out. Just the unnamed Engineer specialization to go now and the full details of the long-ago revealed but never codified Druid spec for Rangers, which also uses a staff. That's probably the only one I'm really interested in so sod's law says it's the last to get a full reveal.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Pay To Survive : City of Steam, DinoStorm

A funny thing happened while I was playing WildStar today. It made me log out and play two other MMOs instead.

Not because I wasn't enjoying myself. I was enjoying WildStar very much indeed, wandering around Galeras helping the local farmers deal with a poison gas attack, aiding the local mayor in foiling an attempted Chua plot to undermine his town with giant mole machines. As you do.

No, it was the tunes. The extraordinary potency, as The Master might have put it, had he been born a century later, of cheap videogame music. I kept hearing fragments of melodies that reminded me very strongly indeed of the main themes from two games I haven't played for far too long - City of Steam and DinoStorm.

They're both browser-based games so there was no long patching process even though it's been more than six months since I last logged in to either of them. Okay, that's not strictly true. I did try to play City of Steam on my tablet a couple of months back but it wasn't a particularly successful experiment. Not without connecting a USB mouse and keyboard anyway and by the time you do that you might as well just play on the desktop.

For two MMOs that no-one talks about any more (not that anyone but me has ever talked about DinoStorm, as far as I can remember) they seem to be trundling along quite nicely. CoS has six servers running, three in Europe and three in the USA, although what a "server" means for a browser game I have no idea.

Someone in chat said the game was no longer being developed and there's precious little on the website to suggest it ever will be again as far as actual content is concerned but that doesn't mean there's nothing going on. There have been quite a few changes to the way log-in and playtime rewards work since my last visit and there's currently a large cross-server competetive event in progress. Plenty of people were chatting and chilling in Arkadia although it wasn't as crowded as I've seen it in the past.

My goal remains the same as it has been since ownership and operations reverted to Mechanist Games almost eighteen months ago - level one character far enough to get to the end of the main storyline. I've been stuck on one particular episode for as long as I can remember. It's a long battle through several instances to a boss that I have yet to come close to beating. I realized ages ago that I either needed to get a couple more levels or some better gear to have a good chance of getting past him but leveling is such a grind I haven't had the will to buckle down and get it done.

Then today I had an epiphany. You're not expected to level up by playing at all. That's why it's so dull. You're supposed to stand in the central square, select each activity in turn and let the game autorun you through the boring busywork of fighting. If you really don't want to be bothered even with that there's a button next to every activity that lets you pay to have it marked as "Completed" - you don't need to move!

There's a plethora of daily activities that give Shillings (the in-game currency), Bound Electrum (a version of the cash shop currency earnable in-game), XP, talent points, crafting mats, collectible currencies for buying pets and mounts, appearance gear. Every one of them has a "Finish This For Me - I Can't Be Arsed" button next to it.

You name it, they'll give it to you for doing nothing. Sell it to you, I mean, of course. Oh, you can still go out and get it all the old-fashioned way if you want to but why bother?

All this time I've been ignoring the simple fact that I have a wealth of currency of all kinds accrued from past efforts that could be spent to get me over the hurdles and on to the only thing that interests me - the story. All I need to do is remember to log in every day, cycle through the daily events, do the quick and easy ones, pay the game to do the rest and I'll knock off a level or so a day in about half an hour.

My goblin gunner is level 27. If I remember correctly, although the level cap is fifty, the story only goes to about thirty. It should take a week. Two at the most. I think I'll still have to go and do the story quests in the locations where they actually happen but that's kind of the point. I guess. I might also have to do the access quests for the next zone but that's fine too. I like seeing new places.

Gosh! Finding out I don't actually have to play the game to play the game has really motivated me to play the game! Who knew? All I have to do now is remember to log in. Thanks Carbine! I'd never have done it without your oddly unoriginal choice of background music.

As for DinoStorm I don't think I'm ever going to make any progress there. I doubt they'll miss me. I never gave them any money anyway. Someone must have, though, because the game is still plugging away. What's more, unlike City of Steam, which I think is definitely quietening down, DinoStorm feels busier than ever. There were dino riders all over the place when I was in town collecting my log-in rewards (paltry though they were, compared to City of Steam's).

What's more there were plenty of players out in the badlands. Unlike City of Steam, where almost everything outside the urban hubs happens in instances, DinoStorm is a real MMO with proper zones and everything and they're all set for open PvP. You can quest and level safely for a while in Dinoville but eventually you have to venture out into the badlands if you want to progress.

Despite the warning as you leave town I've never had any trouble. On my little starter dino I probably look too pathetic to kill. Until today. Someone on a hulking great tyrannosaur took exception to me breathing his air and filled me full of lead.

First time I've been killed by another player in DinoStorm. It was a learning experience. Literally.

I learned that you lose some money permanently and drop some more on the ground. I learned you can go back and get the money you dropped (aka corpse recovery) but that you can also buy a Wallet Guard in the store to stop you dropping money next time someone shoots you in the back. Or you can buy a PvP Protection scheme that prevents other players from attacking you altogether - for three hours.

Is this Pay To Win? It's definitely Pay Not To Be Ganked. Does anyone playing these games as their main MMO care? Who are those people anyway? Why are they playing these MMOS and not ones people have heard of? Sometimes I feel we're all living in different worlds and not just virtually either.

You know what? So long as the scenery is worth looking at and the music sounds sweet I don't really care. If I can buy my way to success or safety with imaginary money then I'm already winning. Aren't I?
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