Handy Tip for Virtual Machines

When I’m booting up a virtual machine on my PC I always have to dig into the network details or run ipconfig in  order to determine the IP Address before I can use remote desktop. To save one of those steps you can run bginfo from the startup folder to get it to automatically write the IP Address and other details to the desktop background:

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb897557.aspx

and

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/run-program-automatically-windows-starts

Eldritch Coding Horrors, Part 1

I found this terror today in a legacy application.

Program A uses SetWindowLong to hook the message loop for a Windows Form:

[sourcecode language=”VB”]

Friend Function StartListening() As Boolean
SetWindowLong(m_MappedWndHandle, GWL_WNDPROC, AddressOf WindowProcedure)
End Function

[/sourcecode]

Program A then shells program B. Program B sends a WM_COPYDATA message to program A. Program A intercept the message, reads the data, and then passes the message to the form:

[sourcecode language=”VB”]

Public Function WindowProcedure(ByVal hwnd As Long, ByVal msg As Long, ByVal wParam As Long, ByVal lParam As Long) As Long
If msg = WM_COPYDATA Then
objMapMemoryData.ReadMessage lParam
End If
WindowProcedure = CallWindowProc(objMapMemoryData.GetWindowProcedureAddress, hwnd, msg, wParam, lParam)
End Function

[/sourcecode]

objMapMemoryData.ReadMessage raises an event that is handled by the Form:

[sourcecode language=”VB”]

Friend Function ReadMessage(ByVal lParam As Long) As Boolean
‘SNIP: Copy memory around
RaiseEvent MapMemoryDataEvent
End Function

Private Sub objMapMemoryData_MapMemoryDataEvent()
‘SNIP: Process event here
End Sub

[/sourcecode]

To Bind or Not To Bind That is the Question

One of the things that VB6 is very good at is late binding. Back in the days before .NET late binding or OLE Automation as it was also known was one of the only ways to do certain tasks such as create reports in Excel, run Word mail merges from databases, or print nicely formatted documents. However there were downsides too. Applications that late bound to DLLs and EXEs had no means to ensure that the target supported the call being made or even that the target was installed on the PC. This allowed difficult to debug problems to creep into your program.

 So the best solution to late binding problems was to early bind to any DLLs that you wanted to use. This way you could ensure that the interface was correct and that the DLL was installed on the system. However this led to another problem: DLL Hell. When an updated DLL was installed your system had to keep track of each version of the DLL and make sure that the right program called the right version. If a DLL was relied upon by a lot of programs and was regularly updated then a new installation could mess up an old program.

 So .NET included ‘xcopy’ installation – simply include the right version of each referenced DLL in the same directory as the application and late binding became something that only ‘bad’ programmers did. Early bound DLLs also need to be loaded by the system when your program initiates.

 The thing is that late binding solves a certain class of problem, one that often occurs in legacy applications. When adding new features supported by a DLL or refactoring old features to use new DLLs early binding to the DLL can cause problems with your installation program/routine, especially where DLL Hell issues have been previously overcome or there are a large number of support DLLs required for the application.

 So a simple approach to enhancing or refactoring an old application is to develop with the references early bound and then switch to late binding and copy the required DLLs into either the application directory or another suitable location.

DDO Levelling Guide 1 to 7

Zone Adventure Level Source Notes and Instructions
Start here for Level 1
Korthos Village General 1-2 F2P Explore the village and inn, pick up all quests and complete them before venturing into…
Korthos Island 2 F2P Wilderness Area
Travel to Stormreach harbor
Start here for Veteran 4
The Harbor General 2-4 (F2P) There are plenty of repeatable free to play quests in the Harbor zone
The Harbor The Cerulean Hills 3  F2P Wilderness Area
The Harbor The Waterworks 3-4 F2P There are always groups doing this chain of quests so they can be repeated as desired to pick up additional rewards and XP. Note that the waterworks is a wilderness area so there are the usual slayer and discovery quests in this zone.
The Marketplace The Seal of Shan-to-Kor 3-5 The Seal of Shan-to-Kor
The Marketplace The Catacombs 3-4 Catacombs There are some good rewards from the end of chain loot including eternal wands
The Marketplace The Sharn Syndicate 4 The Sharn Syndicate
The Marketplace General 2-6 (F2P) Some free to play quests here
House Deneith Depths of Despair 4 F2P Go to Hammersmiths’s Inn and bind to the Spirit Binder, this is a set of four dungeons that can be completed one after the other as a series that start with the Depths of Despair
House Phiarlan Tangleroot Gorge 3-7 Tangleroot Gorge Wilderness Area
House Phiarlan The Necropolis 5 Necropolis Part 1 Litany of the Dead Part 1. Note that Tomb of the Burning Heart requires additional players or hirelings so are best done with a group.
House Phiarlan Phiarlan Carnival 5 Phiarlan Carnival Quest series. Included with Menace of the Underdark
House Phiarlan General 5-9 (F2P)
House Kundarak General 5-8 (F2P) Go to the Ever Full Flagon, bind to the Spirit Binder, and pick up all the quests in the inn

The Problem with EVE

I’ve come to the conclusion over the last few years that EVE Online is a bad game. It has stunning and excellent graphics but is so focused on PVP and pandering to the hardcore players that every other element of the game is lacking. It is expensive to play and does not provide any real entertainment for your money.

EVE garners much positive press and several awards as well, but reading between the lines one seems to find that the ‘journalists’ who write these reviews are themselves either long term players, special guests, or have only spent a minimal amount of time in the user friendly tutorial section.

Skills

 At the core of the problem is the skill system – due to its design there is no way that a new player can catch up with an older player. In other MMOs players can dedicate themselves to catching up with the top level players and, with enough perseverance, can, within a month or three, make it to a point where they are on even ground.

 In EVE getting to a mythical even ground is simply not possible. Any player who plays averagely and doesn’t make basic mistakes will never be able to catch up with a similar player who started the year before; and that doesn’t figure in the terrible steep learning curve. For myself it took me 4 months before I realised that the Weapon Upgrades skill was an absolute must have!

Without the support tools for EVE planning your own career is tantamount to throwing yourself off a cliff. EVEMon is de rigueur for character planning and EFT or Shipfit are a must have to work out what you’ll be able to fly in six months time.

PVP

Deriving from that issue is the PVP problem – no amount of skill or perseverance will make a difference in one on one ship combat – it is simply impossible to defeat a better ship that is played safely. There is no even ground and thus most ‘combat’ actually consists of ganking, and that invariably of players who started earlier ganking players who started later.

There are many experienced EVE players who claim, on forums and in comments, that it is not the ship or the skills but the pilot that matters, and frankly, they are talking complete and utter bullshit. They are so far removed from the lower end of the scale that they simply cannot see how it works out for anyone who has played for less than a year and isn’t using all the specialized setup optimization tools that are available. They, of course, want to believe that it is not the massive advantage of millions of skill points that makes the difference, and that it is their own skills that make it, but they are sadly mistaken.

However PVP in gangs is possible for the newer player provided they are the sort of player who enjoys the ‘wolf pack’ mentality and can get along with other similarly minded players. For many, myself included, putting up with the sort of people who enjoy wolf pack gaming is simply not an option. We lone wolves cannot tolerate the pack mentality in any way.

So if, like me, you can see that PVP is not going to be an option for your EVE entertainment what other game elements can be used to provide entertainment? This is going to be difficult because the overwhelming focus on PVP has left the rest of the game quite shallow. Let’s look at mining first.

Mining

Mining is one of the ways to make ISK in EVE, it’s fairly slow and very, very dull. Find an asteroid, move close, switch in mining lasers, and wait, and wait, and wait, when you cargo hold is full fly back to the station, empty your haul and start again. If you’re very lucky you might get attacked by some NPC pirates and can watch your drones blow them to kingdom come. If you’re unlucky you’ll be ganked with extreme prejudice by some desperate pirate player lacking the social skills to join a ‘real’ PVP outfit.

It’s no wonder that there are so many mining macros and programs out there, mining in EVE is singularly the most dull and predictable experience in any MMO ever, it barely qualifies as grinding, it’s more like holding down a dead man switch to get ISK.

Missions

So if mining isn’t any fun what about running PVE missions? Well yes, there are lots of agents who can supply you with missions so you can earn goods, bounties, and reputation. However there is one problem with that: there’s only one mission, and you get to play it over and over again with different dressing each time. Once you’ve done that mission enough times that you’ve built up your standing to a good enough point your agents will be able to give you the same mission, only much harder.

This goes on for a very, very long time, as it takes hundreds of repetitions of the same mission to improve your standing, and improving your standing just means you get access to the same mission but with better rewards and heavily increased risk.

The mission itself is very simple – build a really good tank that can withstand dozens of NPCs and then slowly work your way through them with whatever guns you manage to squeeze in. If you don’t have the skills or money for a really good tank then go back to mining until you do. And whatever you do, don’t fail a mission! Failing a mission puts you back such a huge step that you will have to do dozens more missions just to get back where you were. And heaven help you if you fail an important/storyline mission, you’ll pretty much have to forget about working for that whole sector of space. Not fun.

Or you could do the courier ‘mission’ a task that requires you to ship a crate of cargo from one place to another for a tiny reward. Do a few thousand of those and you’ll be slightly wealthy and very bored.

Sandbox

So if PVP, mining, and PVE aren’t any fun what is left? Well according to all the pundits and publicity EVE is a sandbox game in which you can do anything you like and go in any direction you like. Except of course that there’s only three or so things to do, and anywhere on the edges of the map is inhabited by slavering loons intent on defending their territory at all costs… So the sandbox seems to be rather more of a sand bucket, not exactly fulfilling promises of fun on that regard.

This lack of genuine scope seems to be a deliberate design decision to encourage you to PVP, the missions are so bad, and the mining is so dull, that being ganked in PVP should be a pleasure in comparison. It’s similar to the misconception that having an abusive partner is better than no partner at all.

Scams

The PVP focus of EVE gives rise to the most awful set of players I have experienced in an MMO. The forums are full of ‘leet’ hardcore players deriding anything raised by ‘carebears’ or ‘newbs’ in the most tedious manner. That attitude is carried over to every aspect of player interaction, including the joy of scams.

In EVE scamming other folks out of ISK is seen as a ‘feature’ of the game and is allowed by the rules. Meaning that if, like most people who play MMOs, you are an inexperienced teenage boy then you will be rapidly parted with your ISK with no comeback. This is not good entertainment and does not enhance player retention. After all, if you’d just spent a month mining in order to build a ship you’d be very upset if someone scammed you out of your hard earned money with a trick, and you’d be quite likely to quit the game in frustration.

Teh Hardcore

The majority of EVE players seem to relish the unpleasant aspects of the game, ganking, scamming, using tricks to kill newbies, theft, etc. I can’t help but wonder what sort of a lesson this teaches those young impressionable players, it must surely be educating them into a ‘fuck you’ approach to life. That unpleasantness is not conducive to a fulfilling game experience.

They are however very loyal to their game and any suggestion that some feature of EVE could perhaps do with some minor improvement is met with a vicious outburst of hate. Hardcore EVE players would like to think of themselves as the elite of PVP, but in reality, thanks to the extremely technical aspects of fitting ships and using skills, they come out as more like hardcore trainspotters. People who spend all their time obsessing on the minutiae of the game without actually having fun; and games should be about fun first and foremost, a game without fun is no longer a game, it is a chore.

The Cost

Furthermore EVE is an expensive game; thanks to the well acknowledged steep learning curve, it takes several months to gain a foothold of any sort and about a year to make any decent progress. If you’re a new player you’ll be making some terrible mistakes those first few months that will cost you dearly in regards to wasted time.  Spending a lot of frustrating time and money on learning to play a game is not fun.

On a minor bright note, with all the right tools and a knowledgeable approach you could probably play the game for free with about a three month setup period. Provided you were willing to mine eight hours a day five days a week that is, or employ an illegal bot/macro program to mine for you.

Multiboxing

It seems that many of the player base operate several accounts at once, thanks to the simple mouse driven, fire and forget nature of the game. It is very easy; provided you have a powerful enough machine, to run 2 to 4 EVE games at once, switching between them as required. This does raise the challenge level quite considerably. It is also very easy, as mentioned elsewhere, to run a mining bot to play the game for you, in which case the more accounts you have the more ISK you get.

Numbers

The reputed number of accounts, according to the EVE website is approximately 220,000 the last time I checked. The number of people playing at any one time varies between 25-35,000. It’s quite possible that those 200,000 accounts represent as few as 70,000 actual players but the nature of EVE and MMOs makes it very difficult to determine genuine figures.

Goldselling

Gaining ISK in the early stages is very difficult, so you may be tempted to buy it, there are of course websites where a simple transaction can get you many millions of ISK (and the potential for a ban) but there is also a legal system for buying ISK on the EVE game forums. The EVE owners do have the gall to tell you that buying ISK from gold sellers harms the game though, even when they effectively sell it themselves…

The amount of trade on the ISK selling forum would suggest that a lot of players are exchanging real world money for in game money. Interestingly enough, despite the fact that EVE employs an economics expert, they haven’t seen fit to spend time or effort looking into this aspect of the game, maybe because the results would be quite shocking.

More Money than Time

It’s also shockingly easy to make a lot of ISK in EVE. Not through the traditional grinding methods but simply by capitalizing on the average players laziness. Station trading is the simple method of setting up buy orders for items and then selling them for a profit. The majority of EVE players are so lazy that they will sell their items at the first offerred price and buy from the closest supplier without checking on whether they are being ripped off or not.

The EVE market isn’t like the real world, it’s possible to check every price in the entire galaxy and easily go for the bargain, but the general population of EVE simply doesn’t bother. Which means that station traders can readily make a profit with very little effort. Some of the richest characters in the game have made the majority of their wealth with station trading. They’re so rich that they can readily disrupt in game markets to screw even more profit out of the system.

The problem lies in that station traders do not generate their ISK, they act as a form of taxation, skimming a percentage off every player in the game and continually inflating the price of every item.

A Bad Game with Potential

So it seems to me that overall EVE is a bad game because it increases bad feeling between people, does not entertain, and is not value for money.

Despite its many bad aspects EVE has the potential to be a great game if only the developers would dedicate some time and effort to the lacking aspects of the game. EVE is a very beautiful game that would attract many players if only it weren’t so bitter and twisted on the inside.

So you should probably wonder, like I do, what the management at EVE and the shareholders think of all this. The game, by its design, seems to be set up to pander to only the most addicted players, admittedly those dedicated players are spending a lot of money each to play the game; but surely, as has been shown by several other games, the big money is in attracting a large and satisfied player base.

If I was a shareholder I’d want to know what the designers are doing to attract, and retain, new players, but everything in the game seems to be designed to repel new players.

Lone Wolf Gamers in MMOs

I am what I think of as a lone wolf gamer in MMOs, I am much older than the majority of players and I play exclusively versus the game environment (AKA PVE), on my own, almost all of the time.

I find that 99% of the time parties, guilds, and other player organizations are either a terrible waste of time or full of awful people. Even though I may spend many hours playing the game each week I think of myself as a casual player, simply because I do not take it as seriously as many players.

So what is there in the current crop of MMOs to appeal to players like me? Well, not a lot most of the time; as far as I can tell most MMOs seem to be designed with the idea that teaming up with other players is mandatory for many aspects of the game. Many MMOs make it very difficult to progress beyond certain points or achieve significant goals if you are a lone wolf.

Why MMOs?

It would seem that MMOs are the wrong choice of game for the solitary player as many excellent single player games exist, such as Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Half Life, etc, etc. So why would someone who has played all those games decide to try out MMOs? Most importantly, why would they pay a monthly fee to play?

I’m speaking from my mindset here and I play MMOs because they provide a challenge that does not exist in single player games, no matter how good they are. Having other players to compete against is much more exhilarating and exciting than playing against a computer program, regardless of how well made it is.

There are facets of MMOs that are drawing: exploration of a new world, collection of rare and exotic items, a non-linear plot, and completion of the game (where possible) are all satisfying for the solitary player in an MMO.

Even if all you do is measure yourself against other players to see how well you are doing or what is capable you are still benefiting from the multiplayer aspect of MMOs. If you decide to dig deeper then PVP in all its aspects is a great game within a game. In addition you have a whole world to explore, I would imagine that many ‘lone wolves’ are keen to see all the sights of the online worlds or collect all the exotic goodies that are available. Lastly, the chance of possibly making a friend, even if it is remote, is still a driving factor. Lone wolves are still people and people are keen to socialize, regardless of the limiting factors.

Lastly there is the influence of story; most fiction that inspires MMOs and their players consists of lone heroes defeating incredible odds to come through at the last minute. This theme is then projected by the player onto the game experience, making the appeal of a lone wolf play style much more in line with the game play than would otherwise be deduced by a review of the game features.

Thus I think that there are many good reasons why a solitary player would want to play an MMO.

World of Warcraft (WoW)

World of Warcraft is actually very good for lone wolves most of the time, you can get all the way to level 70 (the highest level) without joining in with other players. You will have had to miss out certain quests and areas that are designed for group play, but those are not essential to get to the end. Even PVP battlegrounds in WoW can be fun as they are fast and furious without being forced into working with other players.

However the top end of the game is not lone wolf territory, you will rapidly accumulate a large number of quests and dungeons that can only be done in groups. In order to get decent kit you will need to be running the dungeons regularly and without a guild or regular group of players that will be impossible. It is just about possible to get a fair amount of decent kit but it will take you a very great length of time, much longer than getting it by any other means.

EVE Online                                                        

EVE Online on the other hand looks like a game that is ideal for the lone wolf at first glance. You can venture off into deep space to do your thing and it has a reputation as a ‘sandbox’ game that supports different playing styles. Sadly this is a misconception, EVE is heavily focused on PVP and group PVP is the only way to progress for the less than veteran player. The solo play is mind numbingly tedious, you can either grind the mission (there is only one, it just comes in various disguises) or sit in an asteroid belt waiting for your mining lasers to fill your cargo hold.

City of Heroes (CoH)

City of Heroes (and it’s dark half, City of Villains) is good for lone wolf play, like WoW you can run all the way to the end just doing missions on your own. However the missions do get a bit samey after a while, once you’ve beaten your way through the tenth warehouse full of goons in a row you may get a bit bored, but nothing like as tedious as EVE. CoH has added PVP aspects, badge collecting, and new mission types in the several years it has been in existence.

Design Aspects

The lone wolf player is drawn to certain elements of the games as mentioned before. The design of the game can either support or discourage those elements of play. As these elements are important to both lone wolves and regular team players we should have a look at them in closer detail.

Quests or missions are a large aspect of most MMOs with the better games using the quests to drive the player forward and even follow a story. Other games treat the missions as reusable components that can be supplied to players who have nothing else to do.

Satisfaction for the lone wolf can be found in the sort of missions that tell a story or are set within a context. On the other hand missions that seem to be randomly generated from a limited template are highly unsatisfactory for the lone wolf as they are likely to be spending a great deal of time on missions in order to ‘complete’ the game.

The three games discussed above give good examples of the different mission styles, all three have quests available from start to finish, and all three can be played by just doing missions and ignoring almost all other aspects of the game.

WoW is a game with a multitude of quests, each one tailored to the area and the quest giver, admittedly many quests are derived from the basic templates (kill monsters, fetch materials, or take stuff somewhere) but somehow they seem to fit well within the milieu of the game. Many of the quests on WoW are distinct and scripted with internal events and multiple steps in a storyline. Suffice it to say that the questing in WoW is both highly satisfying and highly rewarding, although it can be overwhelming in the sheer number of quests available at any time.

EVE is a game that randomly selects a mission from a fixed set each time you ask an agent for one, moreover all the missions are pretty much either ‘go here, kill this’ or ‘take this to here’ missions. The fact that they are painfully obviously randomly allocated is highly unsatisfying, especially as you have to do an awful lot of them in order to get anywhere. There are a few linked missions and the starter missions are well woven together but other than that they are very routine with seemingly very little actual effort placed into their creation.

CoH falls between the two extremes of WoW and EVE, while it has many missions that are simple ‘go here, defeat bad guys’ they are not randomly allocated as they are in EVE and many build towards a story. CoH also gives the player a choice of random missions to be followed when desired and the ability to pick and choose makes the game more enjoyable.

CoH also has a few mission features not found in other MMOs: in certain missions, if you are defeated, you are sent to a ‘prison’ within the mission from which you will have to escape in order to continue. There are also timed ‘bank job’ missions that allow you to wreak havoc (villains)/foil the bad guys (heroes) within an area in order to extend the available time for the mission.

Grinding

‘I wouldn’t mind taking weeks to get an item as long as the time spent is not doing the same thing over and over again’

MMOs have one feature in common: grinding. The endless repetition of a set task to ultimately gain something of value. Most MMOs feature a lot of grinding and grinding is not fun.  Grinding shows a lack of design in an MMO; it is used as filler for areas of the game that are lacking in original content. The typical MMO player seems to be capable of grinding endlessly but for the lone wolf player this is the antithesis of what is enjoyable.

It is the grinding that leads to all kinds of other problems: because grinding is predictable and boring some people have developed bots to do it for them, effectively cheating at the game.

Grouping

‘I’ve learned that trying to involve random dorks is a hassle that I’m not up for’

‘I’d like to play with people and group up if only it weren’t such an awful chore to deal with the online eejits’

One thing that drives lone wolves to their play style is the problem of other players. The majority of MMO players seem to be young male teenagers with tiny attention spans and limited vocabulary, whereas the lone wolf tends to be more mature and thoughtful. Naturally these two types of players will not get on well and the continual judging and grading of everyone around by the immature player will rapidly drive away the mature player who just wants to meet some people. After all you wouldn’t hang around with someone in other social settings if they continually put people down.

Missing Out

‘Since a lone wolf can’t/won’t complete instances, they will be limited to quest items at maximum, and even then only quests that can be soloed, so they will lose out on the ability to raid and get the T6 type gear’

What do lone wolf gamers miss out on when playing MMOs?  Most obviously things that require a group to complete, in WoW this would be the dungeons that give better rewards than the solo quests. At the high end of WoW the game is full of players dedicated to raiding the big dungeons that require large numbers of skilled and well equipped players.

The Hardcore

What are the characteristics of a person that is willing to sacrifice the hardcore elements of an MMO? Generally they are not at all like the typical hardcore player, they do not enjoy trading boring time for ultimate advancement, they do not enjoy being bossed around by self important raid and guild leaders, and they do not have the long hours to dedicate to a big raid or dungeon.

Role-playing

Lone wolf gamers also miss out on many of the role-playing aspects of MMOs. The lack of social contact will lead lone wolves interested in role playing to internalize their role playing, imagining themselves as lone heroes, or solitary wanderers.

Advantages

What advantages do lone wolf gamers have in MMOs? The most obvious advantage would be one of scheduling, a lone wolf can take smaller bite size portions of a game when convenient, allowing them to play when they have time for themselves without other more important commitments such as family, children, work, etc.

Multiboxing

Multiboxing refers to playing several instances of a game at once, either on multiple PCs, which is where the name derives from, or on a single powerful PC. Multiboxing is well suited to the lone wolf gamer as it allows them to complete parts of the game only open to groups. However, multiboxing does require a large commitment in resources, from paying for multiple accounts, multiple computers, and the time to gain the expertise to get everything working together. Resources that the more mature player is likely to have or be able to afford.

Conclusion

Numerous MMOs exist each with their own balance of missions, group play, and PVP. However finding a good one can be very difficult. Game designers, like politicians, promise much and deliver little, while the fanbois, like party supporters, will say how wonderful their game is and how awful all the other games are while simultaneously claiming to be quite neutral. There is very little reasonable discussion of the merits of games compared to each other. Perhaps much of the trouble is that most game journalism appears to be funded by game companies or written by fanbois.

Suffice it to say that MMOs do not really support lone wolf gamers yet. The better games have decent options for the solo player but many games resort to the eternal grind option and don’t put any real effort into making those missions different, interesting, or involved.

Games with a PVP slant are typically the worst for lone wolf players, MMO PVP tends to consist of 90% ganking and 10% running away, the mythical fair fight being notoriously absent. Oddly enough games where PVP is designed to be fair, like City of Heroes, have almost no PVP players involved. It seems that the majority of PVPers would much rather be grief ganking the newbs than testing their ‘leet’ skills.

The problem may be that there are simply not enough lone wolf gamers out there to make it worthwhile supporting them in MMOs, they are certainly not a vocal group and do not spend their time in game forums whining about problems. Perhaps there is a silent majority out there, slowly grinding away on their own in the MMO cyberspace, if so, we may never know.

Confessions of a Botter

I used to be one of those people who used a bot program to play World of Warcraft for me. It started when I heard about people using a bot to fish for them, and as anyone who plays WoW knows, fishing is singularly the most boring activity you can do in WoW.

Searching around on the internet I found an interview with the maker of Glider (WoWGlider as it was then) and from that interview I found the Glider site (www.mmoglider.com), liked what I saw, and spent my $15 to buy the program. From there on in I learnt how to use Glider to level up characters without me having to be around to do all the legwork.

Overall I’m pretty bad at WoW, not clueless just very slow, I started playing a few months after release and I didn’t even get to level 60 until after the Burning Crusade expansion was released – in fact it was only using Joana’s Horde Leveling Guide (www.joanasworld.com) that I eventually got up to 60 and then 70. Something that all the botting I did never actually managed to accomplish for me.

It turns out that I was equally as bad at botting* as I was at playing WoW, I kept starting new alts and new accounts to try out different classes, botting them up a bit and then switching to something else all while keeping a low profile to avoid getting banned. After a while I got fairly good at setting up my little botting routines (or profiles as they are known) and got a few characters up to level 60 before the BC expansion came out. I was building up a little army of botted accounts and characters.

Now in the botting world there are several sorts of botters, there are those who play WoW for fun and use Glider to level up some alts to try out different classes, there are others who like to use the bot to back them up in a party, there are also those who create accounts to sell, those who farm gold (either for themselves or to sell to others), and those who bot in battlegrounds to farm honor.

Botting is very useful, it frees up the time you would have spent grinding and lets you go out to the movies, or make beautiful love to your fiancée. All the good things in life. The careful botters, of whom I counted myself as one, keep a low profile to avoid getting banned, do not race up in levels, and do not sell countless farmed goods on the auction house.

However it seems that most botters are in it for the money, they are leveling characters to sell or are farming gold to sell, and because they are in it for the money they have a don’t care attitude that makes them stand out like sore thumbs. They bot in quest spots, waste everyone’s effort in battlegrounds, are on 24 hours a day, use the simplest routines, and are mostly hunters with a pet boar named boar… Many people call them Chinese gold farmers but in fact a lot of them are lazy teenage boys with no scruples out to make the easiest buck they can get away with.

I don’t like the botters who are careless and blatant so I report them at every opportunity, and most have been subsequently caught and banned. I know because I add them to my friends list once I’ve reported them and after a while they stop logging on, for good. The botters who are subtle and careful, I mostly don’t even see, neither will you, and they’re genuinely not doing anyone any harm, they’re just saving some time.

The blatant ones are like those terrible people who will lie to your face and not even have the grace to be subtle about it, you know, people who would be estate agents or second hand car salesmen if they weren’t so lazy.

Now on the Glider forums they have a rule that if you confess to reporting a botter then you will be banned from the forums. It’s a pretty stupid rule because only a complete idiot would be caught out by it but there you have it. There are plenty of forums with stupid rules like that and this article will get me banned from the Glider forums and incite a flame war the like of which has not been seen since Rome burned (please excuse the internet hyperbole).

However when you read between the lines of other people’s posts on the Glider forums you can see that there are tons of people there who report their ‘fellow’ botters. Not least by the way they scream and shout when someone mentions that they have thought about reporting a botter – the lady doth protest too much and all that.

So all the time I’ve been playing I’ve also been reporting my fellow botters and this makes me a very bad person in their eyes. But frankly, they’re a bunch of blatant cheaters without an ounce of morals between them, so screw ‘em, screw ‘em in the ass.

On the other hand I also contributed to the glider knowledgebase by writing some helpful guides and helping people out on the forums. None of that will matter once they see this confession though; I will be universally reviled by the Glider community.

Unfortunately my botting wasn’t really satisfying, it’s quite easy to setup and level up a bunch of characters or farm some materials for crafting or to sell for gold but it doesn’t provide any satisfaction as there’s nothing to do with those botted accounts but either sell them on or farm with them. So a while ago I stopped botting, bought Joana’s leveling guide and started playing manually, which, although slower, is far more satisfying.

Finally getting to level 70 and having done it by myself with only a written guide to show me the way was really fulfilling, WoW is a great game for leveling up on your own and with the recent changes to leveling speeds it’s got a lot better as WoW used to be very slow to level in the mid to high levels. Since the leveling speeds have improved and I got my first character to level 70 I have started grinding a few more alts up.

Since then I have come across something that suits me down to the ground: multiboxing. In case you weren’t aware, multiboxing is playing more than one copy of an MMO at once and using hardware/software tools to broadcast keystrokes from one copy to the others. It’s a decent challenge for someone like me who’s good with computers (and programming) but not so good with an MMO (my leet skills are sadly lacking). You can find out more for yourself at www.dual-boxing.com.

I first discovered multiboxing when someone on the Glider forums posted what they thought was a massive botting setup of 40 or so PCs all running WoW at once; in fact it was a very specialized multiboxing setup to allow two people to carry out their own 40 man raid.

It was those screen shots on the Glider forum of that setup that started me off on multiboxing and it’s with multiboxing that I finally managed to make WoW really work for me.  Because all the time I was botting I was trying to build up enough accounts, characters, and computers to run them on, in order to be able to have a whole party of bots led by me.

One of the downsides of WoW and most MMOs is that they have some fairly heavy group only content. Sections of the game that you can only get into if you have a whole group of people to back you up. I’m talking about instances, dungeons, raids, and other special encounters here. The trouble with these group only sections is that you need a group to do them and getting a group together is really, really hard.

So my long term goal for botting was to be able to run those instances on my own without the headaches of leading a group of people, something which I do not excel at. Ultimately however, it wasn’t botting that got me to that position but multiboxing. Botting might be easy but it gets you even less than playing the game by hand, no real challenge, no learning, no excitement, no fun, and what’s the point of paying for something that’s not fun? It took me a while to learn but botting doesn’t do you any good.

*By botting I mean using a third party program to play WoW, not the other sort of botting: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=botting

Postscript: This article was originally written in 2008.

Multiboxing – For Guys Who Like to Play With Themselves

I’ve recently started multiboxing in WoW and it’s where I’ve finally found a comfortable experience with my favourite MMO. In case you didn’t know, multiboxing is playing more than one copy of a game at once and using hardware/software tools to broadcast keystrokes and mouse clicks from one instance of the game to the others.

One of the bad points of WoW and most MMOs is that they have a large amount of group only content. Sections of the game that you can only get into if you have a whole group of people to back you up. I’m talking about instances, dungeons, raids, and other special encounters here. The trouble with these group only sections is that you need a group to do them and getting a group together is really, really hard.

The pick up group is fraught with difficulty, there is inevitably someone who takes a 10 minute break halfway through, someone who only has 30 minutes of time for a 3 hour commitment, or worst of all someone who just wants to rush through so they can ninja loot all the goodies and foster ill will all around. Even if you have a bunch of friends who play WoW, getting them together at the same time, all ready to play, and without interruptions for the 3 or more hours required to do an instance is a very rare occurrence. For anyone with a job, family, or a sense of responsibility it’s nigh on impossible.

Until now I’ve just skipped over these sections of the game and put it down as just one of those things that I can’t do anything about. However I have come across something that allows me to get into those areas and appreciate the full spectrum of the MMO experience: multiboxing.

Multiboxing is a decent challenge for someone like me who’s good with computers and programming but not so good with an MMO. It took me a very long time to get to level 70 in WoW; I first started in 2005 and didn’t get to 70 until 2007, which in WoW terms is an eternity of crappy playing. I didn’t even get to 70 under my own steam either, I had to use a step by step guide to show me the way to go because until I got the guide I was just flailing around with my multiple alts.

Now that I’m an experienced but not good player I can look back and see what a terrible lack of direction I had in the early years of WoW. Although with the many recent changes to quests and leveling that make life much easier I could probably do better nowadays.

It’s multiboxing I want to talk about here though. There are several tasks you need to accomplish to get multiboxing and I’m not going to write a multiboxing guide here, there’s plenty of that on the dual-boxing.com forums (see link below).

The first task is to decide how you’re going to multibox, the basic decision is either hardware or software. If you choose hardware you will need multiple cheap PCs and a bunch of keyboard and mouse linking hardware. If you choose software you will need one or more powerful PCs and a software tool.

The second task is to decide how many games you will multibox at once, for WoW it’s generally 2-5 although some people manage to successfully multibox 10 at once, and there are even a couple of people who manage a whole raid of 25 or 40, which is a LOT of hardware!

The third task is to pick up a tool to let you broadcast keystrokes to all the games you’re going to multibox. You’ve got a choice of solutions depending on cost, availability, and your desire. I chose to use a software solution called Keyclone on my single powerful desktop PC.

The fourth task is to buy and install all the copies of the game you will need and create all your accounts, making sure to register them all in your name (it’s a bannable offense in WoW to multibox with differently named accounts and multiboxers get reported all the time).

The last task, and in some ways the hardest, is to set up all your macros and keystrokes for smooth play. This is where the dual-boxing.com forums really become useful, there’s a number of guides and a lot of advice on how to get started and how to optimize your play.

Once all that’s done the rest is just playing the game.

As you start playing as a multiboxer you will inevitably attract comment from other players, generally these are favourable but you also get a lot of people deriding you as incompetent, a few who report you, a number of people who will take great offense and insult you, a few who will assume you are a botter, and of course those people who view a multibox party as a juicy bit of honor to be ganked mercilessly.

Interestingly there’s quite a strong link between botters and multiboxers. Although the multiboxing community, because of the fact that there’s bunch of botters in it, really wants to keep that little fact under wraps. The multibox community is a bit worried, and rightly so, that if they’re seen to be associated with botters then multiboxing will get banned as well because multiboxing is right on the edge of what is acceptable in playing WoW.

Additionally, because a multibox party is able to act in a much more coherent and guided manner than one made of five individuals, it is very easy to overpower other players with directed fire and DPS. So potential multiboxers really need to think hard about the consequences of acting in an unsportsmanlike fashion, ganking people with a multiboxed team will get you hated on damn fast, and enough hate will eventually cause the developers to rethink their stance on multiboxing.

There are certainly a number of multiboxers who play because it gives them an advantage over the solo player, or multiboxers who use the method to farm gold or items, but then there are always low people who will use any form of advantage, tool or exploit to screw over other people, regardless of consideration for others.

To sum it up: what I’ve wanted from WoW all along is to be able to play at my own pace, see everything cool there is to see and do the things that need a party, and with multiboxing I can have a party whenever I want without the difficulty of herding cats that is the usual pick up group experience.

It’s my party, and I’ll play when I want to.

p.s. You can find out more for yourself at www.dual-boxing.com

p.p.s. This article was written in 2008, since then I’ve stopped playing WoW, started and stopped multiboxing EVE Online, and now wish that DDO was capable of being multiboxed properly.

Is World of Tanks Playing with Loaded Dice?

I’m getting the impression that somewhere in the guts of World of Tanks there’s some loaded dice. I’ve been in too many battles where one side or the other just disintegrates under the least amount of pressure and I think it’s down to two possibilities:

One – the random number generation for dispersion, penetration, and damage has a factor that is rolled per battle and side not per shot

I think there’s a lot of people who have experienced battles where they and their side have either blown through the opposition with little effort or been unable to dent them even with expert marksmanship.

This could be due to a factor, think of it as a bonus or penalty, which is applied randomly to each team at the beginning of the battle, which modifies the random dispersion, penetration, and damage rolls. Effectively giving one random side a massive advantage most of the time.

i.e. Team Green (TG) and Team Red (TR) both have a random factor applied to their RNG rolls at the beginning of the battle. Let’s say that the number can be either plus or minus 0, 5, or 10% and the RNG adds a further +/- 0-15% per shot.

– In the first battle Team Green gets +10% and Team Red -10% resulting in Team Green wiping out Team Red very quickly.
– In the second battle Team Green gets -5% and Team Red gets +5% resulting in a close win for team red.
– In the third battle both teams get a +0% bonus resulting in a close battle that goes down to the wire and where the skilled players actually make a difference.

I have a rule of thumb when playing arty, if the first couple of shots go wide then so will all the others. It appears that the amount you deviate by (but not the direction) is fixed for the match. Those matches where the first shot hits on the nail are going to be the ones where you rule as arty, the ones where the first shot hits the edge of the circle aren’t going to be so good…

Two – matchmaking groups stock tanks and/or 50% crews together

We’ve all seen the strange way that the matchmaking system places groups of similar tanks on one side of the battle. It isn’t properly randomised which leads to the theory that there’s other strange coding going on in the matchmaking. If one of those is to group together stock tanks (i.e. not fully upgraded) or 50% crews (i.e. any crews less than 100%) then that again gives one side an enormous advantage.

Even if the matchmaker doesn’t factor in stock tanks, crew skill, or even player ‘skill’/win rate/premium account, simply not balancing the teams evenly can result in a significant advantage for one side over the other. 3 KV-1 tanks as top tanks vs 3 Shermans is an example I’ve seen a couple of times. Allowing tier I tanks to platoon with tier X tanks screws over the side that gets the tier I.The weighting system used in the matchmaker doesn’t work to provide balanced teams in a significant number of battles. This has just the same effect and is just as bad as fixing the random rolls for the match.

Loaded Dice

Nobody wants to play a game where one side is given loaded dice. It’s obvious to many players that something strange is going on in the game, and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s up to the developers to assure us that their game design is genuinely randomised to give all players a fair chance.

Paranoid Conspiracy Theories

Please note that I don’t think there’s a conspiracy and Wargaming aren’t ‘out to get you’ by rigging your matches to lose when you creep above a 50% win rate. It’s all down to the badly coded Team Win Generator accidentally fixing 70% of matches with one sided bonuses and/or bad matchmaking. It explains absolutely why you can only have a significant effect one battle in ten despite playing the same every time. It also makes building any real skill ten times as difficult because for every time you repeat the same action you don’t get the same result. They don’t need to fix matches for individual players as fixing matches randomly accomplishes the same ends. This is Wargaming’s version of balance: If everyone gets screwed equally then the game is balanced

Testing the Hypothesis

For anyone who wants to run their own test what needs to be looked for is a correlation between winning a match and having ‘good luck’ with regards to hits/penetrations/criticals and losing a match with ‘bad luck’ on hits, penetrations, and 0 damage criticals.

i.e. record your hits and misses, your bounces, and your criticals. For arty record your deviation from the center of the circle. and record the outcome (i.e. 15-0 loss, 2-10 win, etc) and how fast it happened. Even simply recording hits/misses and wins losses would help. This is what I’ll be doing.

If the Team Win Generator is setting a single bonus/penalty at the beginning of a match then the majority of shots will perform badly in some matches, well in others, and ‘average’ in a small number.

Why I’m trying to quit World of Tanks

I realised something today: World of Tanks is a casino with nothing to win except a momentary sense of accomplishment.

I’ve loved tanks since I was a little boy making plastic models of WWII tanks. As I grew up that turned into a love of wargaming and all its associated modelling requirements. I would lovingly select, purchase, assemble, and paint all the tanks, soldiers, terrain, and other items required to field my own little army against fellow enthusiasts. If I’d never moved house there would still be a desk piled high with paints, brushes, glues, and tools but I did and so all those things had to be tidied away. A couple of moves later and with a pressing need for money it was time to sell all my wargaming collection on eBay. I thought I was done with it.

Years later my wargaming passion has turned into an online gaming passion. I’ve played World of Warcraft of course, who hasn’t, but I’ve also played sundry other games but never found something that drew me like my teenage obsession with tanks until I chanced upon World of Tanks. World of Tanks (WoT for short) is purportedly an MMO focused around WWII tank battles and so it is at first appearance.

You play the game by entering short PVP team battles, fifteen tanks to each side on a small thousand meter square map. Now that’s quite odd for tank warfare which is mostly conducted over significantly larger ranges and areas. This is explained by the designers as the game being focused on arcade action and fun. Sounds like a great idea.

However it’s not quite that simple. Each shot has a very large random outcome as the designers have applied a strong random factor to every aspect. Assuming you have aimed correctly when you press the fire button your shell will disperse randomly within the aiming circle. It’s meant to be on a bell curve but from personal observation it’s just wild, you cannot aim and expect the same result from the same gun consistently. Assuming you actually hit the enemy tank there’s then a random penetration roll that increases or decreases your shell’s penetration by twenty five percent. After that the game works out what damage you do to the enemy tank again with a twenty five percent randomisation of your standard damage. Add this all up and each shot you fire has a wildly different outcome. Multiply that out by your fifteen team members versus the fifteen members of the enemy team and the outcome is entirely unpredictable. Except that it isn’t. Somehow the random factor seems to favour you on some days and be against you on others. Almost is if the dice were loaded.

Now it’s certainly possible to overcome all this randomness, the designers of the game have given you plenty of opportunity to spend buckets of money on microtransactions to enhance your game. Premium subscriptions to let you progress faster, premium tanks to let you grind out experience and cash for new tanks, premium ammo to let you penetrate better, premium crews to utilise your tank at one hundred percent of its ability instead of the standard fifty percent. The list goes on and on. By the time you’ve got into the game and run into the point where you have to start grinding the game to progress you’ll either have given up in frustration or be very ready to start buying your way forward.

Once you’re established in WoT you’ll begin to perceive the underlying problem and eventually realise why it’s bad for you. Other players have taken the readily available statistics from the game and done some simple analysis. The average player has a win rate (games won as compared to games lost) of forty eight percent. The worst players lie around thirty percent and the best no better than seventy percent. The shape of the bell curve for this distribution of win rates has very steep sides meaning that it is very difficult to change your win rate once you have a lot of games under your belt. What this means is that each game you play has roughly a one in three chance of being lost no matter what you do, conversely another one in three will be won without you lifting a finger. It’s only the remaining one in three games where you will stand a chance of influencing the game. Provided that you are in a tank that can sufficiently influence the outcome and that the random rolls come your way. For the average player this is maybe one game in ten where they can have an effect on the outcome. What’s worse is that thanks to the pretty much guaranteed one win in three even the most useless players, AFKers, and bots will always succeed in the long run, simply by virtue of playing a large enough number of games which means that there are always thoroughly useless players on each team and it only takes having one more useless player on your side to lose the game.

So the game is pretty much a gamble, you take your tank, place your bet (in the form of the ammo and repair costs you will spend), and spin the wheel. On a good day you guess the outcome, otherwise it’s all down to the randomness in the system. But you never know which one it is. If you do well you’ll feel god about your accomplishments, do badly, or get on a losing streak and you will be upset, blaming every other player under the sun, and having a thoroughly bad day.

This is where it gets nasty. Unless you pay money to overcome the randomness in the system you will have more bad days than good days and even the good days will have plenty of bad spots in them. Unlike most quest based MMOs where you can feel as if you’ve accomplished something each time you hand in a quest, WoT is only rewarding for the one game in ten where you actually personally accomplished something.

So now it’s possible to see why quitting World of Tanks is the only sensible course. It may not cost much to play a little, a few quid here and there, but paying for World of Tanks is like pissing into the wind – you have no chance of success. Unlike a casino where the odds are regulated World of Tanks has no odds you always lose all your money and you only stand a tiny chance of gaining a small sense of accomplishment. I’ve always been against gambling, which may be a surprising attitude for a game player, but to me gambling is just handing your money over to a bunch of criminals whereas playing a game is pitting your skills against your fellow enthusiasts. World of Tanks flatlines any skill by replacing it with loaded dice and then screws you over for a shot at the little prize.

So if you see me installing the game or talking about it again just remind me gently of why World of Tanks is an unlicensed casino with loaded dice.