Monday 31 August 2015

Ahoy there, me hearties! Avast behind!

My time in Azeroth has temporarily come to an end. I let my subscription lapse some months ago and am now paying with WoW tokens instead. Now I've stopped that, too. I still have some tokens in my bags, but what with a summer holiday approaching (now that it's autumn!) and the rugby world cup on the horizon (and Ireland has the incredible ranking of world number 3 right now), I don't think I'm going to have any time for raiding. Plus, I need a break.

I may come back to Azeroth refreshed in October, or I might wait a little longer. Perhaps even to the next expansion, who knows.

In the meantime, I've been playing with's latest World of Warships beta release. I downloaded it ages ago, but I had trouble getting it running. The screen would flicker in such a way that I could see what was previously on the screen, For instance, in the middle of battle, I could still see the pre-battle screen flickering in and out. And moving my gun target left a trail of target cursors in its wake. Don't even think about what happened when I rotated my point of view. Suffice to say it was unplayable.

I updated it recently to see if the problem had been fixed, and lo and behold ... it hadn't. But after much searching I found a work-around, and got the try out WoWs (as we cognoscenti call it).

Have you noticed how much more agile the tanks in World of Tanks are, compared with actual tanks? WoWs has the same problem, on speed. My low-level ships feel like windsurfing boards.

There are several different classes of ship, and the most problematic for me are destroyers, which at low-level fire torpedo broadsides from deck-mounted launchers. The problem is that the torpedoes travel really slowly, and once you have four or five destroyers on each side, well, there are a lot of fish in the water. And it's not unknown for your team to find themselves turning into the path of your slow-moving torpedoes. Uh, oh!

I am a team-killer. Inadvertently. I've also inadvertently been been killed by my own team's fish. I haven't yet had the ignominy of steaming into my own torpedoes: thank goodness my top speed is slightly lower than the top speed of my torpedoes. Otherwise it would have happened.

I guess it's just a matter of better map awareness, and better awareness of how slowly these torpedoes travel. Although the torpedo range is 8km, there really seems to be no point in using them until you're on top of the enemy. Definitely cease firing them while you are behind your own team. Avast behind!*

*This whole article written to allow me to legitimately use that final exclamation.

Blaugust, day 31.

Screen Flicker in World of Warships

 I'm only going to deal with one kind of flicker, the one that was bugging me! The screen would flicker in such a way that I could see what was previously on the screen. For instance, in the middle of battle, I could still see the battle-loading screen flickering on the battle-screen. And moving my gun target left a trail of target cursors in its wake. Don't even think about what happened when I rotated my point of view. Suffice to say it was unplayable.

This is the view mid-game!

It turns out that WoWs  doesn't respect the hardware anti-aliasing setting on your graphics chip, and tries to do it for itself. That means that if your graphics processor is set to do the anti-aliasing itself, you're in trouble, and you need to switch off the hardware anti-aliasing. But only for WoWs, or you risk other 3D software slowing down. I don't care about that, so I put up with it to get WoWs running.

I've got a very basic graphics chipset, an AMD Radeon  HD 5450 (I know this because it comes with some management software that told me (AMD Catalyst Control Centre (or CCC ))). To fix the problem, I went into CCC, selected "Gaming"->"3D Applications", and then changed the setting "Anti-Aliasing Mode" from "Override Application Settings" (which I presume is the default) to "Use Application Settings". Once I'd done that, the game played perfectly.

Then I decided to take some screen shots, like the one above, so I set the Anti-Aliasing Mode back to "Override Application Settings", and tried again. Lo and Behold, there was no flicker! What happened?

This: when I set the Anti-Aliasing Mode to "Use Application Settings", CCC automatically changed the next setting, "Anti-Aliasing Samples", to "Use Application Settings", also. Then when I changed the Anti-Aliasing Mode to  "Override Application Settings" for the screenshots, it automatically changed the "Anti-Aliasing Samples" to "None". I don't know what its original factory setting had it at, but when I changed it from "None" to "2x", the problem came back.

So now I have two ways of getting rid of the flicker:
1. Change the Anti-Aliasing Mode to "Use Application Settings" or
2. Change the Anti-Aliasing Samples to "None".

Blaugust, day 31

Friday 21 August 2015


In "Paying to be the hunter", Tobold made the point (with respect to MMOs):
Many other games don't have character power levels or gear, so it is totally possible to create a game in which playing a lot would only make you stronger in as far as you become more skillful in the game
As 8f and Samus pointed out in the comments, there are plenty of games which require player skill, such as Call of Duty; but one of the unique features of virtual worlds is that we players are more like actors than athletes. Our skill lies not in dexterity, but in playing a role.

The premise of virtual worlds is the same as in D&D. It is the character that progresses, not the player. The fun is not in improving your keyboard skills, it is simply in acting the role of the character, and seeing the challenges from her point of view. As a player, I'm still rubbish at casting fireballs, but I act the part of my character, who is expert at it through the effort she has put into improving her magic abilities (not my keyboard abilities).

Of course, given equally powerful characters, player dexterity will matter if both are in competition. But it be the end, we players do not play these games because of our superb keyboard dexterity, or we'd be playing games in which keyboard dexterity matters more, and the second-by-second and minute by minute game-play was more attractive. We play these games for the epic stories told (and our part therein), whether player generated or developer generated; and for the personal development of our characters within that world.

It so happens that in most virtual worlds, character progress only happens when the player is in-game. That's not a law of nature, though, and I can quite imagine games in which characters are set skill-building tasks that progress while the player is offline. Skills in Eve online are trained while the player is offline. In WoW, followers level up by doing missions that progress while we are offline. In fact, the legendary quest is progressing through such naval missions. It would be interesting to see what could be made of a game in which our characters could train while we players are elsewhere.

Blaugust, day 21.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Class Order Halls

After Garrisons, where all the NPCs lick up to me and call me Commander, I'm hoping that Class Order Halls will be a big improvement. I cringe every time some programmed cartoon calls me Commander, in fact. Me and 10 million others. I'm hoping that the Class Order Halls will curb that tendency to plamás us with honeyed terms of insincerity.

Two things in the early reports that are bugging me, though:
  • First, it seems that Afrasiabi is telling all who will listen that you are the leader of your order. More plamás, it seems. You, and me, and that guy meléeing with his wand. Afrasiabi wants us all to believe we're the leader of the order of mages. The Garrison was bad enough for that sort of thing, but at least I had built my garrison up, and the only other people there were people I invited (though I don't remember inviting Fiona). But the class order hall will be filled with all sorts of mages of all sorts of abilities, and I'd really prefer that the class leader would be the most able of the mages who put themselves forward for the job.
  • Cross-faction? I don't think I could bear to spend any time in the same hall as the Undead. The smell alone would drive you out. Not that orcs or trolls smell much better. In any case, I'd be just as happy killing them as the Burning Legion. I hear reports that Dalaran would become a neutral city. I can't in all conscience square that with the behaviour of the despicable, lying horde of thugs who are our enemies. Jaina has been proven to be entirely right about the matter, and it's a shame that our king stopped Thrall from ending Garrosh's life when we invaded Orgrimmar and defeated him. In fact, its a shame we shirked our duty to bring decency and fairness to that lawless orc city.If only we had seized that moment and dismantled the horde, as Jaina wisely insisted, and executed Garrosh as Thrall tried, we could have saved ourselves the misery of a year and more stuck on Draenor in a story that has never made any sense
Blaugust, day 11.

Friday 7 August 2015

What about those predictions, then?

It's normal human behaviour when making predictions, to celebrate your brilliance when you got it right, and rationalize away your mistakes as not really a failure of prediction, more of a failure of others to behave rationally. I'm working on that, but meanwhile, let's look at the predictions I made last week and see what became of them. So here they are repeated in quotation marks, and my comment on whether I was brilliant or Blizzard were idiots following the quote.

  • "I already mentioned that I thought Blizzard would be announcing the next expansion at Gamescom. That was the first part of my guarantee." - I don't care what you think, Wilhelm, I'm counting it!
  • "The release date will  tie in with the World of Warcraft movie. That was the second part (oh, yeah, sure it seems obvious now, but it wasn't even obvious to most people that there would even be a expansion announcement back when I guaranteed it)." - The jury is still out, though it seems likely still.
  • "The next expansion will be set in Draenor, still: in Farahlon and other parts." - My genius outstripped Blizzard's here.
  • "The Burning Legion, who have hardly shown their face this expansion, will be out in force." - I'm so hot I'm sizzling.
  • "That also means we get to meet Medivh and Kil'jaedan." - I admit Blizzard's greatness in fetching Illidan back from the grave was so greatly great that I feel stupid not having thought of it first; but the jury is still out on Medivh and Kil'jaedan.
  • "Gul'dan will finally get his come-uppance. Please let it not be as Garrosh finally got his." He isn't getting out of the Suramar Palace alive.
  • "More people with pointless apostrophes in their names will turn up". I think that's a given. Blizzard's names department has an apostrophe where the space bar should be.
  • "The gold price of WoW tokens will skyrocket." - We'll only know in the months to come. I will of course count any uptick as proof positive of my magely brilliance.
So that's one wrong, four right (though even the furbolg could have predicted the excess of apostrophes), and three more about which we must wait and see.

Blaugust, day 7.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Archimonde and other nobodies

Raiding in Draenor feels like a pastiche of the good ol' days of raiding during the days of the Burning Crusade. The problem, for me, is that the developers don't seem all that interested in telling stories. Not that they've skipped it altogether: the main story, of the struggle between Gul'dan, Grommash and Khadgar is well told. But the problem is that there is not much story that prompts us to enter the various raid and dungeon instances around Draenor. It seems that the developers are simply asked to produce a fun instance, with challenging fights, and not bother too much about how it fits into the story.

The dungeons are at a double disadvantage in that one now normally enters them through the dungeon finder while levelling, long before discovering their entrances. That leads to a story-telling problem. As a designer, you don't want to introduce a breadcrumb quest before the adventurers are at the level to enter the dungeon, but once they are, they've probably already seen it before they got the breadcrumb quest. Or else the quest is offered out of thin air, by the GUI rather than by any individual (my least favourite form of questing).

There was a solution, back in the days of Wrath of the Lich King, that I thought was very good: Jaina offered a breadcrumb quest and before you had got the quest off her, you simply couldn't queue for that particular instance. Later versions of the dungeon finder didn't allow queuing for dungeons whose entrances you had not found. But for whatever reason, these ideas were scrapped, and now dungeons seem like separate games, where the real world of Draenor or Azeroth is just a waiting-room or lobby.

The raids in WoD particularly bother me, though. I can think of no good reason for wandering into Highmaul, except to exercise my lust for death and gear. Kargath Bladefist, at least, has a story we all know from Draenor. We've seen him at Bladefist Hold in the Spires of Arak. I believe he has also been seen in the company of Grommash and the other Warlords. Kargath Bladefist is a bona-fide boss with a back-story. But Tectus? Brackenspore? Even Imperator Mar'gok seems to have no story*. Why do I care about these monsters?

Frankly, the bosses in the other two raids are not much more interesting, although at least Blackrock Foundry itself has a worthwhile storyline. But in Hellfire Citadel, bosses are name-checked and killed with no story attached to them, nor reason for their presence. You're supposed to just remember the good times you had with them in Outland. Even Archimonde only turns up in order to get killed.

Without  stories*, it's hard to remain interested in the goings-on in Draenor. Perhaps it's time to return home to Stormwind. Beneath the sands of Silithus, in the cold vastnesses of Northrend, and in the dread wastes of Pandaria, qiraji silithid nerubian mantid toil endlessly in the darkness, extending their underground empires.

Blaugust, Day 5

*I exclude stories written in novels in another universe that our adventurers cannot enter.

Monday 3 August 2015

More Warcraft Predictions

I wasn't clear enough for Wilhelm in my predictions for what Blizzard would announce at Gamescom. Wilhelm is usually correct, and I can quite see his point, so I will attempt to be clearer, with no links you have to follow to understand what I'm trying to say this time.

  • I already mentioned that I thought Blizzard would be announcing the next expansion at Gamescom. That was the first part of my guarantee.
  • The release date will  tie in with the World of Warcraft movie. That was the second part (oh, yeah, sure it seems obvious now, but it wasn't even obvious to most people that there would even be a expansion announcement back when I guaranteed it).
  • The next expansion will be set in Draenor, still: in Farahlon and other parts.
  • The Burning Legion, who have hardly shown their face this expansion, will be out in force.
  • That also means we get to meet Medivh and Kil'jaedan.
  • Gul'dan will finally get his come-uppance. Please let it not be as Garrosh finally got his.
  • More people with pointless apostrophes in their names will turn up.
  • The gold price of WoW tokens will skyrocket.
Blaugust, day 3.

Saturday 1 August 2015

Toxic Tankers

It seems that especially on weekends, an especially toxic strain of tankers infests the World of Tanks. They complain about their own team, rage and curse at players who don't play the way they deem correct, and often give away to the enemy the position of players they feel deserve to die, even though it's at the expense of weakening their own team's chance of winning. Of course, usually all this is after their own tank's destruction.

You may remember South Park's take on people with anger management issues (episode T.M.I.): angry men's members are smaller than average, and that's what they're really angry about. But there's no point in reminding tankers about that unless you're trolling them.

In fact, this kind of  angry ranting in WoT is not helped by's response to it, which is basically to ignore it. They believe that their in-game reporting tool and automated response is sufficient. It is not. What expect is that if people are rude, enough people will report them during the game that their automatic tools will realize that and penalize the player. There are two things wrong with that:

  • Lack of reporting
  • Lack of feedback
Let's look at the first of those: lack of reporting. If a player is cursing and swearing at his team-mates, many players who would like to report the player at that point cannot do so because they're far too busy controlling their tanks and trying to avoid getting killed themselves. In the heat of battle is the wrong place to be reporting. Moreover, reporting players for inaction is problematic, because the player might be simply watching through gun-sights at a spot he expects an enemy to appear at. General inaction can only be thoroughly evaluated after the battle.

Lack of feedback is the next problem. There appears to be no benefit in reporting players. They never seem to receive penalties. Maybe they do, but how would anyone know? Lack of feedback leads in turn to the first problem: lack of reporting. Why bother reporting when nothing ever seems to be done?

Finally, will no longer follow up on reports of player rulebreaking that you raise out-of-game on their support website. Even if you support such a complaint with a replay of the match in question, their customer support agents will take no action.

Meantime, player misbehaviour worsens. I've taken to changing my "General Settings" to disable battle-chat. At least I don't have to listen to the ragers. But then I can't tell if they're giving away our positions to the enemy.

Blaugust, Day 1.

Exaltation of Spirit

Today is the 100th anniversary of the funeral of Jeremia O'Donovan Rossa, a Fenian leader, one of the most famous revolutionaries of his day, and a tireless enemy of the British occupation of Ireland. But nowadays it is his funeral that is best remembered, because of the speech Padraig Mac Piarais gave at O'Donovan Rossa's graveside in Glasnevin Cemetery, closing with
They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! — they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace
 It was an explosive oration that lit the spark of the 1916 uprising (in which Mac Piarais himself died) and the War of Independence. It was a speech that changed the world.

Contemporary silent film of O'Donovan Rossa's funeral, with a musical soundtrack added.