City of Heroes: What Is Old Is New Again

Jockeying for my #3 MMO at the moment is City of Heroes, which I picked up at least for a couple months due to the summer lull, the upcoming expansion, and a desire now and then to play fairly mindless (yet purdy) combat.  I remade my plant/radiation controller Killophyll (sometimes coming up with names is the best part of superhero MMOs) and set out to see how the landscape had changed.

The old maxim that players will always seek out the least amount of effort for the greatest reward has been proven true in CoH over and over.  Running regular missions is passé.  Sewer missions give you a boost through the first 10 levels in under an hour, and then virtually everyone now jumps into Mission Architect farms.

I’ve been doing these AE and punching bag farms over the past week (groups form for them more than anything else I’ve witnessed), and I have mixed feelings about them.  I really like the Mission Architect setup, and the sheer variety of missions offered combined with some impressive creativity (and a lot of lameness as well, as is par for the course) means a wealth of unlimited content to explore.  I don’t have to travel much to get to it, and the scenery changes quite often.

Plus, the rate of leveling through farms and punching bags (the latter are level 2 arch-villains who reward you a healthy chunk of XP and are scattered all over one big map) is really impressive.  Like, I feel as though I’ve accessed the CoH cheat code impressive.  It’s fun to quickly level up a toon and feed your altoholic side, but…

…But it does take away a lot of the accomplishment of doing so.  And, of course, there’s the lack of variety that drains a lot of the enjoyment out of running these.

I’ve found an interesting phenomenon with these farms, in that people are so bored doing them that they actually start talking.  I’ve been in a lot of groups where we get into great conversations because the combat goes on auto-pilot at a certain point, and in a way it seems like it’s how older MMOs like EverQuest used to be.  Groups mindlessly farming while chatting away.  Tipa summed up the experience in a recent post, and I’m inclined to think that CoH, in a way, is actually heading back in that direction.

Has the old become new again?

Who I Gonna Call? Guest Bloggers!

If there’s something strange

in the blog-o-sphere

Who I gonna call?

Guest Bloggers!

If there’s a game that’s weird

and it don’t look good

Who I gonna call?

Guest Bloggers!

Okay, that was my really nerdy way of putting out a call for guest bloggers.  I’m going to be gone next week from July 4-9, and I thought I’d give this guest blogging thing a try.  So if you’d like to see your thoughts up here at Bio Break, or if you want to provide an article as a way of cross-promoting your own blog, drop me a line and I’m sure I’d love to host your quirky ramblings

You can either send me a twitter note @Sypster or send me an e-mail: bigbanana -at- hotmail -dot- com.  Let me know soon!


Who You Callin’ Munchkin?

A couple years ago I had a sleepover at my house for our youth group’s guys, during which I introduced them to the awesomely dorky card game Munchkin.  If you’ve never played it, Munchkin’s kind of a satirical blend of D&D and other fantasy RPGs, where you try to level from 1 to 10 before anyone else.  There’s monsters to fight, treasure to accumulate, gear to wear, sex changes to be had, and many cards you can throw at opponents to cripple their progress while advancing your own.  The general atmosphere in a Munchkin session tends to start out friendly and cooperative (you can help other players fight monsters if you want) then moves to antagonistic and brutal backstabbing toward the end game.  It’s a riot.

Anyway, the game was a hit at the sleepover — we had about 12 people playing it at once, forming alliances and whatnot — and for one of the teens, it became his new favorite game.  So he went out, bought the starter pack, and introduced his family and friends to it.  Unbeknownst to me until recently, they’ve had a regular Munchkin night going on and were more than eager to come over to our house last night for a few hours of dungeon-crawling madness.

Marriage pro-tip: Playing games together strengthens your relationship while providing things to do and talk about.  My wife and I often bring games like Boggle and Mille Bornes to restaurants to play before and after the meal, and it just helps give us something to do together that’s both fun and communal.

One of the aspects of Munchkin I was thinking about is how the game incorporates PvP without it being an overt “I’m attacking you with a fireball!” sort of affair.  It’s completely optional as well — you can all play the game peacefully and cooperatively if you like, but there usually comes a point where personal advancement dictates that you trip up the other players so you have a shot at winning.  PvP is more of a metagame, winning or losing the whole deal, instead of smaller battles.  You can curse other players, throw additional monsters their way, refuse to help them, or play cards to wreck their gear and advantages.

Unfortunately, Munchkin requires at least 3 people (4-6 is preferred) to work, so we can’t duo it at home.  We’re looking for a rematch later in July, and hopefully get our own regular group going with it after that.

Six MMO Concepts I’d Love To See Revisited

It seems unfair to me sometimes how the MMO genre latches on to some features while letting others fall to the ground after only one try.  Here are six MMO concepts I’d love to see picked up, dusted off, tweaked, and used in future (or even current) titles:

  1. Tellings (A Tale in the Desert) – ATITD is fairly unique in that it hits the reset button on the game every year or two, wiping clean all of the achievements and starting a new version of the game.  Although I can see this freaking out a whole bunch of players in other titles, I think there might be a lot of appeal in hitting a reset switch in a MMO, as long as the next iteration is different someway and the game is built around it.  After all, people are just excited as all get out over WoW’s earth-rending reshaping of the Cataclysm, and that’s as close to a reset switch as that game’s ever going to get.
  2. Diplomacy (Vanguard) – It’s an interesting idea to treat conversations and interactions with NPCs as a full-blow part of the game, with strategies and levels and whatnot.  If someone can figure out how to do social/diplomacy right in a MMO, they might be on to something.
  3. Trophies (Warhammer Online) – WAR had a lot of neat ideas, but I really grew attached to the trophy system — trinkets you could collect that you could affix to different places on your armor to further customize the look of your character.  It was a shame that too many of the trophies in WAR were tiny and/or only collectible at the end game, but they were still neat to get and show off.
  4. Ascension (Kingdom of Loathing) – A different kind of reset than A Tale in the Desert’s tellings, Kingdom of Loathing encourages (but doesn’t force) players to go through a process called “Ascension” at the end game.  It essentially allows you to start a new character (and pick a new class) while retaining special items and bonus abilities depending on how you played the game.  Looping through ascensions has given KoL an infinite leveling experience while giving players a good reason why they should reboot their toons now and then.
  5. Pay For The Box/Expansions Only, Play Forever Free (Guild Wars) – Explain to me why this model, which has been both insanely popular and profitable for ArenaNet, hasn’t been copied and reused anywhere else in the MMO world?  People love it, and if the game is expanded enough, it continues to make the dough.  (Of course, as I write this I hear that Global Agenda just switched to this model, so there you go.)
  6. A Dungeon-Centric Format (DDO) – Many people disliked how DDO skewed from the typical MMO format (open world with a few dungeons vs. a city hub with tons of dungeons), but there’s something worth revisiting with this, especially now that DDO’s gotten its second wind.  A focus away from an explorable open world means more time to create and develop specific instance experiences, and that might be a good core of a future game.

What Did I Do To You, Turbine?

So the past couple days, internet speeds in our house have been abysmal.  Like, dial-up slow bad.  After doing a couple speed tests and seeing ping numbers off the chart (well into the four digits) and upload/download speeds crawling, we got worried that our internet provider was throttling us or something happened to the service.

Today I spent over an hour with two different technicians trying to fix the problem, restarting the modem, testing each computer one at a time, only to discover that the issue was my computer.  The tech thought I had a virus or spyware that was eating up all of our bandwidth, and I ran a full series of scans to verify that it was clean.  Then we went into the processes and started shutting them down one at a time until we found the one that was crippling our internet.

Turns out, it was a program called Pando Media Booster (pmb.exe).  Disabled it and *poof*, my speeds are back to normal.

So how’d it get on my machine?  Google search for the program instantly turned up DDO and LOTRO as the top search results.

PMB is supposed to help with downloading large files (like MMOs), but there’s quite a few reports on it doing what it’s done to me — slowing a computer’s internet speeds down by running in the background and engaging in cloud computing without you knowing about it.  Some players have even labeled it malware.

Seriously, I didn’t know this was on my computer until today, and once I did, I found a nice FAQ on the DDO forums telling you how to get rid of it or disable it.  Nice to know.  I don’t mind downloader helpers, fine, but keeping it running without asking me about it and having it choke up my internet connection got me pretty ticked off.  Why is Turbine using this again?

Anyway, a general FYI — if you have this on your computer, at least go into msconfig.exe and uncheck it from starting up every time you turn your machine on.