The Death of the New Gods

If you read comics maybe you know that the DC is doing another Crisis and that the deus ex machina this time will be Grant Morrison, with art done by one of the best DC has, J.G. Jones (who made also the 52 covers for “52”).

The whole thing starts this 28 May, with an introduction that set the basis, written by Morrison and the Bendis of DC (Geoff Johns) that is out in a few days. I wonder if any of this will make into the story…

Since I never read a lot of DC I made a grand plan of following the whole story since the first Crisis. Then go through Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis and finally to this Final Crisis, to be published soon. A whole lot of reading that I never did. I’m still stuck at about issue 10 or 11 of the original Crisis. Very fine story, though, that didn’t feel stale at all.

Recently I stumbled into this one series “The Death of the New Gods”, 8 issues all already out with story and art by Jim Starlin, who is part of the old guard and made a lot of those epic, cosmic crossovers for Marvel. I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect the plot of this series is also the premise of the Final Crisis. Something about the new-new gods and Darkseid.

What I didn’t know is that this segment of the DC universe, known as the Fourth World, was built by The King, Jack Kirby. And in fact in that cover you can see his typical insane heroes. Squint enough and you can see one in the background flying on skis. When is the last time you saw a so large groups of ridiculous heroes? Well, I couldn’t miss the opportunity.

In fact it is a wonderful series. Perfectly old-style but with a surprisingly good (and cosmic) story. There’s all the naiveté of the Kirbian age, but the author doesn’t take it too seriously and there are plenty of inside jokes about the cliches. The first issues are complex and confusing as they introduce so many heroes I’ve never seen and tie them back to years of continuity. But I love this old style stuff and the story is really intriguing, setting a number of mysteries that will keep you reading to discover them. Toward the end it loses a bit of quality as the story seems to slow down and you just get through a series of pompous fight scenes and info-dumps, but as a whole it’s a really interesting read that makes you look at these classic style stories with nostalgia.

A better introduction is written by Dan DiDio himself. So read it if you are interested. And then read all the eight issues as the series is a little gem of perfectly preserved classic.

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Kalgan has sense of humor

Player: Please, please, please release a Season 4 Arena and don’t introduce ANY new gear.

Then I think you will have a VERY good indication how popular the Arena is on its own merits.

Kalgan: About as popular as a Sunwell without any loot in it?

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P.S. I was right again

After this I’m done commenting mmorpgs for a while, because as I already explained it only leads to more and more. And I don’t intend to waste my time.

I was reading some news about WoW’s arena’s system. And those news fit exactly the model I anticipated and that I summarized with this lame image:

Now it all looks obvious, but at the time it was pure guesswork as we were five months before the release of the expansion and the PvP revamp. Everything I wrote in that long post was quite correct and I remember on the forums I had to fight a battle because everyone continued to repeat that Blizzard learned from mistakes and that you could save up arena’s points, and so, ideally save up enough of them to buy the best rewards.

While I was saying that no, Blizzard didn’t learn a damn thing and that no matter what people expect, the arenas system was made by Kalgan for his need of being l33t. And so they were going to add some kind of reset system to make Arena’s reward truly l33t, either by resetting your points after each arena season, or by adding rank requirements.

My point: nothing is going to change. They are maintaining the status quo where a small subset of players have access to the best gear, while the majority sits at the bottom of the pyramid. So making the elite stronger, and the noobs noober(?).

And now I read of the two upcoming changes:
1- They are rising rank requirements for arena loot
2- They are stopping powerlevelling

I never participated in a single arena’s match, but I’m sad to see I was right. From what I read you can’t purchase arena’s loot with points, but you also have to maintain a certain rank. EXACTLY LIKE IN THE OLD HONOR SYSTEM.

From Tobold’s blog comments:

This will remove most people below 1500 now from the arena, creating a whole new playing field. And arena ratings on honor gear? Ridiculous.

It seems to me like the Arena has turned into what the honor system was at it’s launch. Something for the hardcore players. And of course as usual, the casuals will be steamrolled even if they’ve got a set two seasons below the current.

It seems that with patch 2.4 and this PvP announcement that Blizzard is returning to the WoW 1.0 model of hiding gear and patterns in inaccessible raid dungeons and behind PvP rating/ranking obstacles.

There will always be teams who win against better geared opponents because they outplay them. But this will get harder and harder. Just think about how much damage a S4 warrior will do to a S2 equipped cloth or leather wearer. With an equipment spiral like that, skill matters less and less.

And I’m writing this because I’d really want to see in the face those that FOR MONTHS argued with me. And then make fun of me if I point out to them that once again I was right.

The morale is in the article:

Saving your points (or even your honor) for Season 4 may not be as effective anymore though, if you can’t also muster up the ratings to purchase the gear.

Last Kalgan’s move to catassing. You know he is l33t. And you know where he’s heading with all this.

Then there’s the powerlevelling. Every idiot playing a MMO knows that it would be stupid to let a level 1 player group with a level 60 player and gain the level 60 player’s experience.

Apparently, considering they are fixing it now, Kalgan didn’t think of this:

Together, these rules (which Tom Chilton alluded to but did not reveal in a recent interview) should mean that a person cannot simply ride a high rating team to victory, but will instead need to fight their way up the ladder to gain points regardless of what team they join.

Because before you could group with the l33t and get their points/ranks. Which created the perfect opportunity to offer RMT to be up there for one turn, grab the loot, and leave.

And with this Kalgan made the last move to make arenas exactly the same of the past honor (catass) system.

Congratulations. You are back home.

Old summary:
– The Honor system is pure catass, players complain for two years
– Blizzard gives up and transforms Honor points into currency
– But doing that then every player will be able to eventually get the best rewards! *SHOCK!*
– So they nudge back the Honor system in the food chain
– And add on top an Arena system that is more Hardcore than ever and whose rewards dwarf everything that was in the game till that point

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WoW’s secret sauce: tools

This has been my theory since the first hours I’ve seen WoW’s client with my eyes. I was discussing this on the forum today, so I will repeat here the concept, also because I think it’s one of the most important aspects that made the game successful and that I’ve NEVER seen commented.

Outside of Dave Rickey, who wrote in his blog about the importance of tools and how always the worst programmers are put to develop tools, as it is not fun or really gratifying. Can’t post the link because it was swallowed by the internet along with the blog.

So look at this sample picture that was posted.

It is nothing crazy, but it explains my idea. See all those tiny hills that make the mountains in the background? Now, do you think that a designer modeled and textured every one, one by one?

So here I repeat my theory.

I believe that a lot of WoW’s beauty comes from ground textures and terrain modeling.

My controversial opinion is that it isn’t about good art, but good TECH.

If you notice WoW’s terrain is modeled in a way that is easily recognizable and every zone has the same rounded style. What I think is that Blizzard is using an editor that with a few clicks of your mouse creates pretty terrain while also placing textures on the fly, depending on the height and slopes.

Not only it allows them to keep that style consistent, but I also think they can make the terrain very quickly (and a new zone is just a set palette of new textures). Even the grass placeable are probably added by the editor itself.

What I’m saying is that this editor must have some preset brushes that do everything on their own (mostly). You give a general direction, a few mouse clicks and the terrain comes to life with all the textures placed and blended following a precise formula. That ALSO makes all the game, everywhere, look consistent (because they turned textures and modeling conventions into RULES, then applied by the editor itself).

Even *YOU* can make a pretty zone in a very short time, if you had the right tools.

You can import WoW’s textures even in NWN2, so what?

I’m talking about tools that let you manipulate objects. Not the objects themselves. You can let someone make a picture pixel by pixel, or you can give him some broader tools. What you are saying here is that MS Paint is the exact same program of Photoshop.


But can’t you see that doing what Photoshop does into MS Paint would require years of work?


So: try to use NWN2 editor to make a small zone with the terrain that look similar to WoW. Even use an existing zone as a model. I’m sure it will pass six months and you are still tweaking things.

And I’m sure it would only take a few hours to make a good looking zone with the editor Blizzard is using and that is giving that consistent look to ALL the terrain in ALL their zones.

You think this is the result of awesomely awesome art direction, or that maybe there’s one slave who’s doing all the terrain in all WoW. I say it’s because a multitude of designers are using the same tools, so producing similar results.

And I know this because I did use tools in various games, and I know that the most difficult thing is to actually make things look DIFFERENT from everything else in the same game and produced by the same tools.

In short: WoW’s designers are using Photoshop-level tools, all other designers doing other MMOs are using MS Paint-level tools.

Generalizing and simplifying a lot, that’s why everyone else is behind.

Follow up here. In the same way Warcraft 3’s editor as the “apply cliff” tool, WoW likely has an “apply rounded hill” kind of tool that automatically shapes the terrain AND applies appropriate textures. With no effort at all.

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The Road – Cormac McCarthy

This book wasn’t part of my reading queue, but my dad bought it and I decided to read it as well as it is rather short with its 200 pages written large.

It’s a famous book, from a respectable author, and won the Pulitzer in 2007. The theme isn’t even too far from the genre, as it describes a post-apocalyptic world. Maybe it would qualify as sci-fi, but it becomes instead a good argument to discuss what separates mainstream (and recognized) literature, from the specific genres that are often disregarded.

As the world where the novel is set is barren, so is the prose and the plot. Think about an hybrid between the “Fallout” games and “I am Legend”. But here things are much more penetrating. What you see written in the first page is the same you’ll see through the rest of the book. There’s nowhere to go. But the father and son, protagonists of the novel, move forth. Clinging desperately to an empty hope that is directly felt by the reader.

This is a world made of ash. There are no oasis. The lack of frills and decorations in the prose help the effects the book wants to convey. The more the prose and plot are naked, the more you see the life, in its most encompassing meaning, to the bone. It doesn’t cover, doesn’t veil, doesn’t distract. Naked. And it’s frightening, lacerating, but transmitting a sense of vulnerability and preciousness.

At its core the book describes the relationship between a father and son. The apocalyptic setting may appear as a distraction, but it becomes the opposite. It is a way to strip that relationship from all the worthless parts, and go to the heart. Since there’s no real plot, the 200 pages become a meticulous description of survival. It is so precise that you are brought there and there is no possible way to read the book while keeping a detached mood. Again since there’s no plot, you, reader, become the protagonist. The father and son move forth, walking step by step across the world, heading south to survive the winter. With this lacerating hope to survive just a little longer and find a better world, accompanied by the certainty that there aren’t any chances. So the reader moves through the book, and what is left to do is simply reaching the end of the book and find out what happens to the characters, expecting the worst. Because here reading is like a torture and you have to work hard to keep going, as oppressive as it feels.

That meticulousness of descriptions becomes, in a way, obsessive. The difficulty of survival isn’t simply about the concrete aspects, but also of the mind accepting what is going on without shattering. It’s unsustainable. There isn’t anything to cling to, no gods, but the direct demonstration than no god can actually exist. So what’s the sense?

I have my own interpretation of the novel. You may think it’s extreme, you may close the book and think that it passed like a bad dream, that you saw the worst, but it wasn’t real. My interpretation is that what is in the book isn’t distant from real life. That those nightmares are concrete. The form of those nightmares may be different, but their substance is in our everyday life, and the distance we feel from that world and ours, the same distance that allows us to stay sane, is just illusion. It is hope. It is a lie we believe in. It is a way to keep the eyes shut and repeat endlessly that everything is going well.

This brought up something I was thinking about before even starting to read the book. What should we teach to our children? Do you protect them, put an hand on their eyes, make them have a life of happiness, of positive dreams, keep them playing, smiling, oblivious? Or do you prepare them to the real world, and so stripped of all the frills, as dramatic at it can be, with that sense of being completely alone, and feel that oppression? Reassured or awakened? Comedy or tragedy?

What is this world? Why do we live? To pretend we’re blind? Or to forget we can see?

I’m sure out there are more people dying than people reading books, playing games, watching movies. So what is real? The illusions we use as shrouds to stay blind and flee for the reality that the mind can’t understand or tolerate? We hide from the view those who suffer, those who are ill. We reject those thoughts and pretend they don’t exist. We have a representation of society that just follows the successful types and makes them a standard. Is all this just so we can bear the weight no one can bear?

This book goes through that. It shows the worst the life has to offer and makes no attempt to hide how terrible it is. It slaps it in your face. At the same time there’s a “fire”. The hope you still have to cling to, something that tells you that you aren’t simply made of flesh, to become ash.

At the end I think the feel is reassuring. That what is in the book isn’t alien, but something we know. It tells the story of a father and his son, and that relationship is as true as what we live. It is the same story that goes on between every father and every son.

It doesn’t show the worst, but the best we are.


So saddening:

Tom Chilton, Lead Designer: The big objective is to build WoW into a viable eSports game platform.

And then worse:

Tom Chilton: Before this, we didn’t really have a good forum for competitive eSports. WoW PvP was just kind of there. For example, our battlegrounds always had the limitations of the Horde having to play against Alliance, it was very themed toward the conflict within the game itself.

So the “eSport” is a way to surpass the “limited” form of factional-themed PvP.

This is surely a new drift that wasn’t there in their original plans. Subjectively: for the worse.

Tom Chilton: I’ll tell you, it’s been a slow evolution. When WoW first came out, we didn’t really have any semblance of organized PvP. We had Tarren Mill versus Southshore…

GameSpy: Which was awesome!

Tom Chilton: That’s nostalgia speaking! I remember you were interviewing me at E3 a couple years ago and you not thinking that it was so awesome.

We kind of slowly went from there, to trying to bring some organization to it with the Battlegrounds. Giving the game a little more capability for players to feel like it was a fair, controlled encounter. Then it was (the arenas) a natural evolution from that.

Natural evolution.

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Post Scriptum to previous post

I want to give a closure to the previous post so that I don’t need to come back to it.

The instance performance of a realm can also be calculated in a absolute or relative way, this may be an objection to what I wrote.

For example WoW’s arenas performance is relative, in the sense that your performance is calculated on a ratio, a so playing more isn’t necessarily improving your performance. In fact it can worsen it.

This one model brings to the internal realm competition I described. In the sense that elite players are lead to fight their own faction as less experienced and geared players will worsen the performance of the whole realm. This would destroy the idea of “realm”, and so be detrimental to the kind of gameplay Warhammer is offering, as it brings a faction to fight itself and divide players instead of uniting them against the enemy faction.

Not a case that WoW’s arenas are detached from the faction Vs faction concept. It just doesn’t fit there. And they know.

But there’s also another possibility where the performance is calculated in a absolute way. Similar to how honor and badges work in WoW, but applied to the whole realm. In this case even when you lose, you win. You just win less than you would if you really won. Still win, but less.

The difference is that while in WoW the instances are completely volatile and reset, in Warhammer these instances will contribute to overall progress.

Assuming that 1 instance has always one faction against the other, this means that both have equal chances. If 200 instances are played and Destruction wins 101 times, then Destruction wins. In all cases. And this once again means that if you lost an instance, you also lost for your whole realm. And so better let the elite play alone instead of trying yourself and damage your own realm.

Your attempt to contribute will likely be detrimental. In particular in a scenario where these detrimental players are the great majority: casual players who would like to enjoy the game and finish to play against their own realm.

Lum’s devs already whimper in WoW:

Yeah, basically the point I’m getting at here is just that the gear disparity is really frustrating for newbies. I’m basically dead weight on any BG team I join because everyone has full gladiator sets. I do my best to help out, but I can’t really hurt anyone. I’m bringing whatever team I’m on down, but I have to do that in order to get to their level.

Which isn’t a so uncommon feeling. In fact I think EVERYONE at least passed through it once, if not sat there permanently.

Now just think what happens when not only you feel miserable because you feel useless. But your mere presence is also making lose your whole realm with your crappy performance. Also because the organized guilds will have all kinds of phat loot and power ups (if they don’t then what’s the carrot to dangle in front of players and keep them addicted?). And you can’t compete. You aren’t catass enough. And you are making shame of your whole realm.

And I also wonder if Mythic is aware of the dead end where they are going. Blizzard has nightmares just to balance three BGs. Even if that balance doesn’t matter so much. They make a smallish change and Horde wins all Alterac instances for six months. Make another imperceptible change and is the Alliance to win for another six months.

And this with classes being the same.

Mythic is pushing more class differences, and, in particular, Battlegrounds that will matter sensibly to the overall game progress.

That is a balance NIGHTMARE. They are going to pile the class issues DAoC had, on top of new balance issues due to the Battlegrounds progress. I wouldn’t be surprised if the game comes out and we discover that a faction totally dominates the other. It’s a no-win scenario. Either the RvR has no real consequences, and so is pretty bland and repetitive without real hooks, or it is meaningful, turning possible balance issues into severe wounds.

I really would like to know how the Beta is going, because all I wrote in this and previous post aren’t foretelling of a distant future, but problems that should be explicit already in this phase of beta. So all I write should be already verifiable RIGHT NOW. And I’d like to know if I’m right, or where I’m wrong.

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Multi-kings kills in Warhammer

The only two things I’m curious about Warhammer and that haven’t been fully revealed are those at the core of the game:

– RvR character advancement
– How real RvR and instances battlegrounds are interconnected

I was kind of baffled when I read this reply of MJ (no, it’s not Mary Jane) on the forums:

Random guy: It is already going to be that way. The king fight isn’t only accessible for one group/raid. The instance is simply capped, that is it. But everyone can fight the king when they want to, once per city siege. I am really not sure why people think it is only for one raid/group when Mythic never even said this, nor hinted it.

Mark Jacobs: You are correct. That would be stupidity on a whole new scale. We’ll make mistakes over the next 6 or 7 years but none on that scale I hope.

To explain and complete the few informations I already had, Warhammer endgame RvR should be structured in a number of linked maps, probably similar to how the multiplayer worked in Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.

We should have the capital cities maps at the two extremes of this imaginary segment, and in between a number of transitory maps. So the opposed factions fight to “push” the front line further toward the enemy city. In theory the map where the fighting happens is just one (as only one front line is supposed to exist), and so you move back and forth through these maps only when objectives in that map are won by one of the two factions. Then the front line either moves forward (next map) or backwards (previous map), depending on the point of view.

At a point it will happen that a faction is stronger enough to be able to push this front line/map progression all the way to the enemy capital city. And there, after a number of objectives, the last goal is supposed to be the attack to the king and the conquest of the city.

This is what I knew, assuming it is correct at least as a general scheme. The real question, as said above, is how you make all that work when you have BOTH real RvR (meaning persistence of maps and battles outcomes), AND instanced battlegrounds (meaning lack of persistence and relativity of victories).

If there’s real RvR, then a conquered keep is a conquered keep. A truth. But if the RvR is instanced then your efforts aren’t absolute and objective, but relative to that instance, then shattered through a number of other instances where other players are playing and obtaining different results.

So the legitimate question: how persistent RvR and instances are supposed to work and relate to each other?

And we came to that answer above from Mark Jacobs that baffled me. He says “you are correct”. So: the instance is capped, and everyone can spawn his own instance and go kill “his” king.

This means that the “king encounter” is a group instance, that can happen an unlimited numbers of times, but only once for each player.

You know, kinda like in WoW’s PvE, where everyone had his occasion to kill Van Cleef in the Deadmines (minus the farming).

Makes sense? Sure, but while PvE is an experience relative to yourself (personal adventure), the RvR is supposed to be a communal experience. Your realm. Where these fights are fun because they are supposed to be persistent. Fight for something as “concrete” as possible.

If Mark Jacobs confirmed that crucial events like the assault to the capital city are instanced, it means that this kind of RvR is going to work like Guild Wars. Where there’s no real war. But the results of a number of instances are charted together, then compared to the global results of the opposite faction, and then the victory mathematically deduced from that comparison. Order won 155 times, Destruction 160, so Destruction wins and the front line moves one map further toward the Order capital.

I called that “projected” PvP. As you aren’t fighting for what’s in front of you (territory warfare, as in conquest games), but you are fighting to collect “stats” on a chart, and then hope your performance is overall better than a vague idea of “enemy” that also appears on a chart.

I’m sorry but this isn’t RvR, as the war between the two factions is detached and filtered. It is just charts compared one to the other. Leader board game. Ladders.

But no RvR in the sense of persistent war and fight for territory.

So virtually identical to the PvP in WoW, and completely different from the RvR of DAoC. Assuming that the whole difference between DAoC and WoW is about the persistence itself.

Which is still a legitimate game. But it isn’t what is being advertised. It’s no RvR in the sense people expect.

And also leads to a number of problems. For example this kind of “sport PvP” (a definition that matches more closely the game) is by its nature more divisive than inclusive as it encourages the “elite” to despise their own faction as other players who aren’t on par with skills and gear become DEAD WEIGHT for the whole faction, as their losses worsen the performance of the whole realm.

The RvR existed to offer a different model. A model where every player contributed. Even if low level and with crap gear, but still better being there than not participating. That’s what built the sense of realm in DAoC , that brought everyone together to defend relics, that built the community, cohesion, motivation and longevity of the game. And that put less focus on the personal performance and phat loot.

Which is what Mythic systematically destroyed by promoting 8vs8 gank groups and that made the RvR (keeps and relic warfare) almost irrelevant and just a mild “flavor” on the background. And that consequently destroyed the unique qualities and value the game had, and dig the hole where the game now lies.

Warhammer seems to be a game with a new coat of paint over gameplay that people decided to abandon. Saving what in DAoC didn’t work, and burying what worked. We’ll see if, after the game’s launch, the players will still appreciate the game after having scratched below this new paint coat and discovered the exact same gameplay they decided to quit.

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Books at my door – April, second part – aka book narcissism


I was impatiently waiting this package from I’m still in the earliest pages of the second book of Erikson, but I wanted to pile all seven of them, in the same edition, and just gawk for a while. That seventh book is fresh of print, as it came out just now in its UK paperback/MM edition.

When you hold it in your hands, Reaper’s Gale, with its 1260 pages, you wonder how Erikson could write it in less than 10 months. And write it with a 1000+ pages book one after the other. At the expense of quality? We’ll see.

There’s also a new map with the whole empire of Lether.

So I made this HUGE pile of the seven books, and it’s really spectacular. When it will have the three missing volumes it will be undoubtedly one of the biggest achievements in the genre, even if you aren’t an Erikson supporter. It’s not books, it’s treasure!

Then there’s also the trade paperback edition of “Last Arguments of Kings”. HUGE, massive. About 80 pages fatter than the second. Had to skim again through the book to understand the title (which is a quote from an inscription on a cannon, so you understand the humor behind it).

I know I’ll love that book, and I’ll have to force myself to read it soon (I have an habit to delay the best things, to keep them last).

In the meantime a third book joins my daily reads: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. But it is a 200 pages book, written big. I’m already at page 80 and expect to finish it in a few more days.