Podcasts

I’m a bit of a podcast nut, because I have a 1.5 hour commute to and from work on the days I work (yes, I’m lucky enough to be a part-timer). I also tend to think podcasts can ease some of the blah from grinding, as and when I need to do it. So it falls to me, fairly naturally to give you a quick overview of the podcasts I listen to – I’ve tried to stick to WAR and gaming ones, but if you ask nicely I might list all the ones I have on my listening list (even ones I’m ashamed of ;p).

Warhammer

No Prisoners, No Mercy – now here’s one we can rely on! Part of the Virgin Worlds collective, this is really top notch and makes me laugh like no other WAR podcast. Sister Julie and Sister Fran put such passion and heart into the podcast that it’s impossible not to get caught up in its infectiousness. It’s a great insight into someone else’s experience of the game, and also raises some really interesting points. But let’s put it this way, the minute I get this one downloaded on iTunes it goes to the top of my listening list!

The Warpath – another weekly WAR podcast from the Virgin Worlds collective, this time helmed by Phillip and Stephen. long-time friends and players of Warhammer tabletop – which is great for me, because it helps fill in some of the lore that I’m really lacking in. I’ve really enjoyed their breakdown of classes – it gave me a lot to think about! There’s quite a bit here about progression through the game and how they’ve found the levels and tiers they’re currently playing, and I find it fascinating to listen to how others view these things, it also sometimes kicks me out of my doldrums and reminds me why I’m enjoying the game, and I look forward to the time when they hit their first fortress.

WARP – yay, another regular WAR podcast, and another one I’ve been enjoying recently. It has quite a few hosts, which means they bring a lot of different experiences to the podcast which is pretty cool. They cover things a wide variety of things, and taught me a lot about the various things different archetypes could do to siege equipment, and I think the show is developing really nicely even if it’s not quite as polished as it’ll probably be in a couple of months – but I still enjoy listening a lot.

Destruction Dollswhat can I say, it was a fun couple of episodes they put out, and I was greatly looking forward to more of it. But it’s been put on hold indefinitely. Shame, but it’s happened a fair bit. Still worth downloading and listening to the episodes they produced, but it’ll be pretty out-of-date.

Chaos Cast – produced and presented by THE triumvirate of WAR bloggers, Syp, Snafzg and Keen, this was once a fortnightly show. It seems to have also fallen by the wayside though, but I’m sure we’ll see the odd sporadic episode. The camaraderie between the three is obvious from listening, and it was always enjoyable to listen to.

Podcast of Reckoning another podcast that seems to have drifted off a little, but I’m listing it here because I know Orlock from MMOgeek fully intends to record another and get back into the swing of it. I remember it being full of fun and good humour, as well as having a British voice as part of it. The WarhammerGeek parody songs are simply fantastic, so even if you don’t go download the back catalogue of podcasts, head over to the site, listen to them and bug Orlock to record the ones he’s written!!

General Gaming

Virgin Worlds though I might like to pretend I don’t pay much attention to other games, of course I do. And Virgin Worlds is a great way to hear about developments in the MMOsphere. I may not agree with Brent on a few things (mostly to do with LotRO rather than WAR), but he’s terrific at what he does and always puts together an informative and entertaining show.

PC Gamer this is the PC Gamer UK podcast, and I adore it – despite the fact I don’t play many games at all. My husband and my friends are quite games-fanatic though, so it allows me to keep in touch with releases, and the contributors are always entertaining. It’s probably not work-friendly, but I love the banter between the contributors!

Shut Up, We’re Talking Darren and Karen host a podcast where they and their guests discuss the most up-to-date or interesting MMO news. Part of the Virgin Worlds collective, it’s another one I just wouldn’t miss and have been listening to for a while. It’s really interesting to get all the experiences of various MMO players and I’ve never failed to find this one particularly worth listening to.

Rock Paper Shotgun Electric Wireless Show – newish podcast from one of our favourite websites out there (I’m sure you’ve guessed we love it). Again this covers PC games, has great repartee and may not be entirely work-safe (if you’re prone to listening to podcasts on speakers at work that is!). But it always makes me smile, gives me a great insight into games I can then recommend to my husband/friends and has that nice touch of British humour about it. Episode 4 is basically a couple of the guys from Rock, Paper Shotgun, and Paul Barnett on a British train, chatting – which nicely encapsulates the casual and fun nature of the show. It’s only up to show 6 now, but I hope it continues for ages.

So that’s it in terms of gaming podcasts currently on my list, though it seems I may be trimming them down somewhat if those on hiatus don’t return soon!

Hope you enjoy them, if you go investigate. Or suggest some others for me to check out – remembering that some of my time is given over to comics, TV and film geekery too 🙂

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All things in moderation. Except this rant.

Wotcha everyone,

Thanks BBC.  You’ve just pointed out that addiction to online gaming is bad.  In such a way that makes me want to go and buy Wrath of the Lich King RIGHT NOW and play it ALL NIGHT.  Just to spite you.  Yes, you, BBC.

I think it’s the just-one-step-from-hysteria tone of articles commenting on online gaming addiction that annoys me most.  And now here is a justification blog.

Yes.  Online games are addictive.  Yes, they really are.

I know this.  I freely admit I’m addicted to them.  I will not even try and append any disclaimer “buts” to that statement.  “Hello everyone.  My name is Hawley, and I’m an addict”.  Single player games just don’t offer the same draw for me, and I do play them for a few hours most nights.  And during the day, if I can.  I have also seen friends start playing them, become addicted, and lose their social lives to online gaming.

Yes, our health can suffer.  For every hour spent fighting my way around Praag, I’m wasting an hour I that I could have used training for the London Marathon.  Or practicing to climb the North Face of the Eiger.

Yes, there is a lack of personal contact.  I’m spending my time looking at a screen, instead of engaging in actual, honest-to-goodness face-to-face conversation with actual, honest-to-goodness people.

Yes, I’m removed from the community at large.  I could be spending time working within my local community, volunteering for charities, and generally helping little old ladies cross the road, but, well, you see, the forces of Destruction need holding back, you see.  And if I don’t do it (whilst getting to level 40) then who will?

But then again, if all the people who weren’t addicted to online gaming were off training for marathons, conversing politely to all and sundry, and filling their spare time volunteering for their local charity, then the world wouldn’t just be a better place, it would be unrecognisable.  We’re just following their lead.

And please, can we also point out that there are a lot more, far more harmful addictions out there.  Because, let’s face it, *anything* can be addictive, given the right person.

I could sit here and go through a list of everything, in order of how dangerously harmful they are to the addict, and those around them.  But there’s no point, is there?  We all know what they are, so why should I waste all of our time going through them, and making this seem like a guiltily defensive moan.

No, this is an aggressive rant.  Why is it that online gaming, and World of Warcraft in particular, is hauled over the coals whenever something happens in online gaming?  Why does it always have to be reported in the same semi-hysterical way?

Why is it that games are the bane of modern civilisation, the root of all of our modern evils?

Is it because we’re WASTING OUR LIVES™ by playing them?  Okay, that’s a valid point.  But then again, I spent three years commuting four hours plus per day to get to work and back.  Four hours.  That’s 20 hours a week.  Almost a whole day every week spent sat on a train, or waiting for one that would never come.  But no-one told me that was wasted time.  No!  Being at the mercy of the British rail system was a good thing, because it was spent going to and from work!  But I tell you what, it felt like I was wasting my life at the time, and I still feel that way 5 years later.

Besides, I spent much of that time reading books, and everyone knows that reading books is good.  Don’t we?  We shouldn’t collapse in front of the television every night, we should do something constructive, something edifying, something worthwhile, like reading a book.

What?  Are they taking the piss?  When I was a wee whipper-snapper, before the internet, and before mainstream gaming, I lived my life in books.  If I wasn’t told to do something by my parents, they would find me with my nose in a book.  Anytime, anywhere, there I was with a book.  To the point that they got worried.  Yes, worried.  They deliberated on whether they should take books off me, or just hope and trust I would be “all right”.  If only books had had their positive, wholesome and uplifting image then, my home life would have been much easier!

I’ve spent a lot of time reading books.  I still do.  And not one has changed my life.  I may have learned some things, I might have discovered how different people thought during different periods to our own time, I might even have vicariously lived the exciting and varied life of the author through their writing.  But no, I have received none of the enrichment that seems to be promised by reading actual treeware nowadays.

No, the point here is that whenever Online Gaming hit’s the press, someone somewhere decides to bring out the same semi-hysterical Online Gaming is Addictive! story, and present it in the same way that they no doubt inform people that “MY HAIR IS ON FIRE!  MY HAIR IS ON FIRE!”.  Yes, we can see that your hair is on fire.  Thanks.

Is it that online gaming doesn’t make for the same exciting sexed-up news that makes the mainstream viewer or reader sit up and take notice?  Are we living in the sort of society where the average person is too busy checking their crampons to look up unless the geeks are shown to be dangerous geeks?  And in a way that all the studies that show that gaming can help improve cognitive thinking, social skills, and hand-eye co-ordination stories won’t?

We all choose the way we want to spend our leisure time.  And anything that makes us feel happier, empowered, or powerful can turn us into an addict.  Those happy joy-joy feelings make us want more happy joy-joy feelings.  Anything taken to excess can negatively impact on our lives, and our personal well-being.  And one of the wonderful, amazing things about people is that we’re all different, and as such, can take different things to different extremes.

People drop out of the mainstream all the time, and a lot of the time, what they’ve done isn’t the real reason for dropping out.  The student who drops out of university can blame World of Warcraft all he likes, but it’s quite possible that if it hadn’t been getting phat lewtz and epixxx that got in the way of his degree, it would have been something else; I remember trading essay-writing time for Warcraft 2.  Not because I was addicted to Warcraft 2, but because I really would have done anything rather than write that sodding essay.  Warcraft 2 was just the easiest, shiniest escape route.  And didn’t involve canoeing up the Amazon.

Geeks are an easy target, after all.  We don’t have “normal” hobbies.  We’re playing a game, and by doing that, we’re doing something that many people just don’t understand.  They don’t understand the attraction, they don’t understand how it works, and most of all, they just don’t understand how we can be so passionate about it all.  And, like most people confronted with something they don’t understand, they mock it.  And it doesn’t help that many geeky hobbies are inherently silly; I know, I do most of them.  But then, after ridiculing our hobby, John Normal goes back to shouting at 22 grown men in tribal colours chasing a ball around a field.  And refers to his tribe of choice as “we”.  “We” won.  “We” lost.  Despite the fact that all Mr Normal did was shout ineffectually from the crowd of John and Janes.

I’m geek and proud.  I don’t hide my geeky nature; I revel in it.  I stopped bothering to hide it a long time ago, and when people mock me, I’ll mock back.  I’ll also try and educate those who don’t understand.  But it doesn’t help when the people who bother to listen have already been informed by the media that we’re all raging addicts with no ability to differentiate between a fake world and the real one.  That we’re all ready to shiv each other up for stealing something that never existed in the first place.  That we’ll never leave our games to go and do something else.  Something involving real people.

Stop it.  Just stop it.

According to the media, gamers buying Wrath of the Lich King at midnight so they can go home and play it immediately are damaging themselves.  Their addiction is wrong.  But parents taking their kids to the midnight launch of a Harry Potter book at a bookshop is perfectly fine, it appears.  And something to be celebrated.  And I’m sure NOT ONE of those kids went home and immediately started reading when they should have been sleeping.  No.  Not one.  All tucked up in bed, sharpish.  Their parents too.

Please, can we have a more balanced view?  One that says we may be daft, but we’re mostly harmless?  That some of us are addicted, but not in the way that means we’ll be mugging old grannies and stealing your toaster to sell for subscriptions?  And that most of us aren’t addicts?  Please?  Do us a favour, and don’t make us have to justify our hobbies to our parents, as they try and hold an intervention?

Cheers,
Hawley.

Hawley’s blatant off-topic ramble!

Wotcha everyone,

It seems that Bletchley Park is to receive some much needed love from the the British Government.  Yay.

What does this have to do about Warhammer Online?  Absolutely nothing.  Yes, I am hideously abusing my position here, to let me ramble on about something that really interests me, and has done for many, many years.

Leaving all national instincts, bigotry, and pride aside, Bletchley Park is a place of magic, wonder and awe for me.

I first started reading about Bletchley Park, or “Station X” as it was officially known as, by accident.  I was voraciously consuming books in a vain attempt to keep myself sane whilst commuting for four hours a day on the joke that is the British rail system.  After a few months of bad fiction, I started on non-fiction, and with the prevalence of books on the Second World War, it was easy to pick up a couple of books that dealt with what happened at Station X, how, and why.

It’s got a fascinating history, albeit one that was so short.  In just a few years, it went from a group of academics and playboys “playing” at code-breaking, to a ground-breaking powerhouse, capable of reading anything, anywhere.

All of a sudden, there were no secrets.

It was also the birthplace of the PC.  Colossus might have been the size of my bedroom, and had enough valves in it to light Blackpool Illuminations, but it was the shape of things to come.  It was the future.

Now, I’m not stating that without Colossus, without Bletchley Park, we wouldn’t have PCs.  But the model, the form, that computing takes was set by Colossus.  By a largely unknown genius who used a bunch of parts normally used to make telephones, to build a modern Wonder of the World in a weekend.

From there and then, to here and now.

Since the war, Bletchley Park has languished.  Largely because of the Official Secrets Act (some of what went on there is *still* secret, over seventy years later).  But now some cash has been found to try and save part of it.  Will it help save cute furry animals from extinction?  Will it help end world poverty?  Will it cure cancer?  Will it bollocks.

I suppose the main reason for being so fascinated by Bletchley Park is that it is the birthplace of the geek.  Forget the authors of fantasy and science fiction novels; Bletchley Park gave us PCs, and from there comes all the cool things that make us geeks.  And that’s why I’m happy it’s got some love.

Cheers,
Hawley.

[WoW] Storytelling in MMOs

NOTE: There’s some minor spoilers in here for the starting Death Knight questchain. So skip this post  if you don’t want to be spoiled.

There are three types of storytelling that go on in MMOs. The first and most traditional sort are the stories we tell about players. Ask anyone about their worst ever PUG or the most amusing mistell they’ve ever seen — we all have stories to tell. Our guilds have histories, our servers have ‘famous’ personalities, we have scandals and drama, and all the flotsam of human nature is there. Game design can definitely have a big effect on the way communities form and interact but for the main part, these are interactive stories that are completely player driven. They aren’t always particularly good or thematic stories but that’s real life for you. At least we can guarantee that most get better with retelling.

The second sort is the type of story that players tell on roleplaying servers, from time to time. These are stories about characters that are partly driven by the game lore but aren’t directly driven by developers. If you’ve ever thought about your character’s backstory and where s/he came from, you’ve done some of this.

(Cybering usually falls between the above two categories because two players writing smut to each other isn’t really roleplaying and has more to do with playing out real life fantasies. Which is basically harmless as long as it’s not inflicted on minors or anyone who isn’t interested.)

The last sort are quest based character storylines. You follow the quests and as you do so, there’s some kind of storyline that your character is experiencing. It may involve helping old ladies to find their lost chickens or saving the world from the Big Bad but the story is written into the game. Human beings enjoy stories, it’s how we are wired, but there are major difficulties with these kind of questlines. The main one is getting players to buy into it. Or even to actually read it at all.

And in Wrath, Blizzard have pretty much taken this to the next level in MMOs (in a good way). The starting Death Knight quests are remarkable in that as a player, you feel personally involved in the choice that your character is making without actually being given a choice. They’re remarkable in other ways too – Blizzard did a super job of showcasing everything they have learned about creating fun and memorable quests, there’s the bombing run, the disguise yourself as a peculiar object quest, the nuke vast amounts of enemy quest, the ‘dodge the elite mob’ quest, and so on. But the writers really outdid themselves with one specific part.

Now backtracking a bit, everyone who plays WoW knows that Death Knights begin their careers as loyal thralls of the Lich King. They also know that Death Knights will eventually be fighting the Lich King alongside the regular members of the Horde and Alliance. Which must mean that either they get a redemption storyline or else they are all really really bad spies (if they were good spies, they’d be disguised as Retribution Paladins – all you’d have to do is whine constantly about not wanting to heal and carry a big 2 hander, no one would ever know).

So the Death Knight starting quests present the player with a redemption quest line. The turning point is where you encounter a member of the same race who remembers you from your time before you became a Death Knight, when you were a hero … And they call you brother/sister and ask if you have the strength to resist. I don’t know anyone who has done that questline who didn’t respond emotionally to that piece of writing, and my hats are off to the Blizzard writers. It is probably the most important piece of quest text in the game because if you don’t buy into that, you can’t buy into the character at all, and they make it work.

I can’t overstate how difficult a thing it is that they pulled off with this. Any tabletop GM will tell you that there are some types of storyline that you just can’t run with some players. I’ve had players who hated storylines where they got captured by the enemy and had to escape (even though I thought it would make from an awesome Escape from Colditz type plot), I’ve had players who were offered a redemptive type storyline and refused it because they liked their character the way it was. Some people just like to feel in control and that they are making their own choices.

And letting people make their own meaningful story choices is something that’s been very hard to pull off in MMOs. So colour me utterly amazed at the writing in the Death Knight quests, because it feels as though a meaningful choice has been made and that the player was personally involved, even though it’s a static questline with no choices in it.

Mrs Spinks Goes to Northrend


Aside from all that, I’ve been very much enjoying questing with my warrior. This is basically what I bought the expansion for and it hasn’t disappointed me. It’s the Blizzard way to deliver a lot of basically competent quests with a few gems in each area. I’m just about done with Howling Fjord, have finished every quest I could find and run the first instance a couple of times with friends.

I really miss the red map blobs from Warhammer!!!

It is also that time in the cycle where there’s a lot of guild swapping going on, as people jockey around and decide how hardcore they want to play for the next few months. My semi-casual guild has lost a few people to more hardcore establishments. It’s inevitable that we likely will lose a few more – experience from TBC says that some people will hit 80 a few weeks ahead of the rest and if they get bored and frustrated while wanting to raid, they’re likely to find different raid groups. C’est la vie. It all happened before and no doubt it will all happen again.

I’m oh so tired…

It’s 6am. I woke at 5:30am. I went to bed at midnight, a bit awake for bed, but knowing I had to go. Because I have work today and need to leave the house at 7:30am to get there.

So why so tired?

Well.. first I signed up to a raid with my LotRO guild so I’d get a bit of practice in before Moria. It was fun, I didn’t get anyone killed and people were really nice and generous to have me along feeling a bit out of it. That finished at 10pm.

Now, when I last left WAR, Order on our side was fighting in Chaos Wastes, trying to flip it after a Herculean effort to flip Praag the day/night before. So I decided to pop on after LotRO and see what the status was. They were still fighting in Chaos Wastes (it started around 11am, just for reference), and there was a keep to be taken. So on I popped and joined one of the two warbands that were in the area. We took the southern keep, then a battlefield objective. Then our warband decided to go do some PQs to help with the zone flippage, leaving the others to re-capture any lost BOs on the way.

Off we went to the PQs. Did 1, then did another, then started on the first again. As we were reaching the end of stage 1 – the zone flipped. Not seen that before, but it was pretty cool, and people did genuinely cheer (even on Teamspeak – hang on, that was me!).

And the next thing we knew, I was learning the way to The Maw. We had 1 hour to try and capture it. First door, pretty easy. Second door, lots of problems getting a ram up, but we got it down. Didn’t see any defenders at all for that part and got a bit worried for poor ol’ Destruction. But seriously, we knew they were out there as we’d seen them valiantly fighting just moments before. We started off with the larger numbers and managed to get up some of the stairs intact, but we had problems with people having the right ward gear (unsurprisingly) and hey, it was our first attempt – so we were a bit all over the place.

We managed to make the fight last most of the hour, if not all of it, I stopped looking at the timer I have to admit. There were multiple waves of champion mobs that hit hard. Destruction had at least as many defenders as we had attackers by the end of it – which made for a pretty epic fight. There was lag, there were complete slowdowns, confusion, insanity and madness. But we were all along for the ride, and we all know it’s now going to happen again, on both sides.

As I left for bed, Order were off to try and defend Praag from the onslaught. One of the things about having that kind of fight, is you know all those players are on and spoiling for action. And a friday night – so noone has work the next day. Except me. Boo.

In other news, I notice Massively linked to my blog post that was pretty cynical about GOA at some point last night. So I thought I’d clarify – I think the odd bit of rhetoric can get action and make things change. I think if players shout loud enough things will get better there. I know GOA’s intention is not to stiff us and make us write such things. We now have a Realm War page (albeit in beta, but I’m guessing that’s because they wanted to get it out asap instead of stalling more – good work! I think we’d rather have it like this than not at all), we are having server transfers, communication has been a lot better – including Magnus stopping in at Ark’s Ark to comment on the Makaisson server transfer issue.

I’ve just seen it improve before and then go bad again. But I am hopeful that this may be the start of something good GOA-wise.

I’m also shattered because the RvR is so engaging I couldn’t just let it lie and not log on last night, and then I just couldn’t go to bed!

Poor work – they haven’t seen me this sleepy since I was killing a Balrog, and now they’ll all have to hear about The Maw.

Quick news

Heavy Metal Grab Bag is out – so if you want to read a little more about the upcoming event, head over to the Herald and have a read. Most important for me were the pictures of the trophies and cloaks for the event, as I don’t think I’ll be going for the week’s preview of the new classes (I’m off on holiday, I’d try and do it otherwise!)

In other news, WAR is heading for Korea and it’ll definitely be interesting to see how it holds up over there.

Oh, and did I mention? Europe now has a Realm War page!!!!!