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.

Perfect Day

I have had one perfect day in all my life. It was a Saturday and a group of us were headed down to Brighton on our bikes for a sunny blast on the back roads and a rock concert in the evening. We had agreed to meet at a little greasy spoon cafe at Box Hill just outside London. As is my nature I had gotten there early and used the time to grab a bite to eat. The cafe was a regular place for bikers to meet so there were usually a number of people hanging around.

Tucking into my burger and tea I didn’t notice a rather tearful looking young woman at first. She was dressed in black jeans and a green leather biker jacket and had long wavy auburn hair tied into a simple ponytail. She was also wearing a pair of steel heeled cowboy boots which looked both impractical and deadly. I noticed that she was repeatedly looking at her watch and had a worried expression on her face that was turning to panic. Finishing my burger I walked over to her and offered to help ‘Hi is there something wrong, can I help you?’

‘My friend said he’d meet me here and give me a lift but he’s really late and hasn’t called’ she said.

‘Would you like to borrow my phone?’

‘Yes please, mine has no charge’ she replied.

I pulled out my phone and lent it to her, taking a step back to give her some privacy. She dialled a number and spoke briefly to someone on the other end.

Handing my phone back to me the girl said ‘Apparently he forgot that he had to visit his mother today’ in a hurt tone of voice.

‘Where are you headed’ I asked.

‘Up to Brighton, I’m meeting some friends for lunch’ she replied.

‘Well if you can wait a little bit I could give you a lift. A bunch of us are headed that way and I’m sure someone has a spare helmet if you don’t mind riding pillion?’ I said.

‘That would be great, as long as it’s not a bother?’

‘No bother, we just have to wait a bit for my friends to get here, would you like a cup of tea?’ I asked.

‘Yes please’ she said.

I ordered two cups of tea and we sat down to wait. We talked a little about the weather and what we liked about Brighton and pretty soon my friends started turning up and joined in the conversation as I introduced Rachel to them and explained her situation. Fortunately there was a spare helmet that fitted her well enough and within half an hour or so we were on our way.

Rachel sat closely behind me her belly against my back and her hands gripping my jacket around my waist, we had found a pair of gloves for her but they were quite thin so she tucked her hands  into the space between the bike and me and held on tightly. ‘Just relax and go with the bike’ I told her ‘it’s easy once you get into it’. While my friends roared off on their bikes, eager in the great riding weather, I set off gently to give Rachel a chance to get used to the ride.

As we picked up speed I could feel Rachel’s breathing through her belly where it pressed against my back, quickly at first but more relaxed later on. The sensation was very intimate and I felt as if we were as close as we would be if we were making love. Picking up the pace a little I caught up with my friends and we barrelled along the A roads down to Brighton, the sun shining, the weather not too warm, our motorcycles working well on the open roads. It was a magical hour on the bike, one of those special journeys where the traffic mixes perfectly and you are not slowed, overtaking smoothly at all the right places, no dangerous blind corners, no caravans or egotistical executives trying to wipe you off the road.

It’s hard to believe, when you’re sitting indoors watching the rain against the window that a better day will come along. But sooner or later the rain will stop, the roads will dry out, and the sun will shine. Then is the time to take to the open road, to hear the roar of the engine and the whisper of tyres on tarmac. Get away from the motorways and their queues of cars and explore the bends and dips of the land, feel the wind flowing by as you settle into a long curve, the suspension settling, the tyres gripping, gravity pulling down and the throttle pushing up.

This was the perfect ride, the bike eloquent on the corners and fierce on the straights, each turn perfectly executed from turn in to apex and out, no wasted motion just a state of smoothness that lasted for moments then minutes and stretched out to hours. The landscape flowed past, hedges, walls, and signs blurred with speed, eyes fixed on the vanishing point ahead.

Rachel’s thighs gripped my hips as she leant with the bike, not straining to stay upright like some pillions who were scared of the road rushing past beneath them. I was last in a conga line of motorcycles, almost touching nose to tail as we slowed down and then opening up, the lead riders rushing ahead to seek out the next opportunity for cornering.

Cars crept by on the inside, for once not blocking our way, each one overtaken smoothly and swiftly without incident, nothing interrupting our progress. Eventually we came to the coast road and opened up the bikes on the dual carriageway, hitting a hundred miles an hour within moments, the road vanishing beneath us as we rushed headlong to the sea shore.

As we entered the town we became scattered, exiting the state of motorcycling grace that had fallen upon us, the chaos and hubbub of the town traffic breaking us like the land breaks the waves. We became choppy and human once more. Nothing again would compare to that one ride, a single motion covering fifty miles in one step, the time vanishing into a Zen state of ultimate biking bliss. We had ascended to Nirvana and been blessed with illumination. All was right in the world.

It was something that a car driver would never have, locked away in their metal boxes, four wheeled coffins carrying them from cradle to grave, never breathing the air of freedom that was found on the back of a bike. I pitied them for their loss.

We arrived at the pier in Brighton and parked out bikes facing the sea, all in a neat little row to mark our perfect riding. We were all removing leathers, stretching our legs, and locking our bikes when Rachel spoke to me.

‘That was great but I have to get going. It was really nice to meet you’ she said.

‘Thanks, you were a great pillion, hope you enjoyed the ride’ I said.

‘Anyway, I’m sorry but I have to go, I’m already really late and my friends will be worried’ Rachel said.

‘Will you be okay from here?’ I asked.

‘Yes, it’s just a little ways away’ she replied, turning to indicate where she was headed. ‘I hope you have a nice day with your friends’

‘Okay’

‘Okay, bye then’ she said and before I knew what happened she leaned in and kissed me on the lips, not just a quick peck but a proper kiss, before she turned to go. I stood there speechless as she walked away.

‘Hey Rachel’ I cried out, and she turned to look back, pausing in mid-stride.

‘Do you want to meet up later?’ I said, cringing at the lame line.

‘I can’t’ she said her smile losing its intensity, ‘I’m busy all afternoon, sorry’

‘Well we’re all going to the concert tonight; do you want to come with us? I mean me; do you want to come with me? To the concert, tonight at the pavilion?’ I said.

Smiling again, she replied ‘I’ll see if my friends want to go, maybe’

Smiling again, she replied ‘I’ll see how things go this afternoon, maybe’

‘Okay… I’ll see you there then?’

‘Sure. Have a nice day, bye’ she said as she left.

I stood there feeling like an idiot while around me my friends joked with one another and grumbled about needing a cup of tea. Rachel had kissed me and I’d let her walk away. Why didn’t I at least ask her for her number? I locked my bike and trudged after my friends, hoping that she would be able to make it to the concert tonight. Maybe she kissed everyone like that and it was nothing special, maybe I was misinterpreting, but it had felt like it meant something.

It had been just after four o’clock when we arrived and we had only a little left time to explore the lanes. We stuck to the northern end where the bias was towards piercings, tattoos, and Goth. The very end of the lanes was dominated by a neo-Victorian empire called Arkham, where icons of the old gods stood watch over steampunk contrivances.

I continued to alternately rejoice and worry throughout the afternoon, spoiling what would otherwise have been a splendid afternoon. Everywhere I looked were reflections of Rachel. A girl in a green jacket. A girl with the exact same tone of hair. A laugh that sounded like her, just round the corner. I love the little shops that you find in the lanes of Brighton. All manner of frivolous goods are available from jewellery to scarves, comics to guitars, pretty much every amusement is represented.

Towards the end of the afternoon my spirits lifted in a surge of optimism, I was sure that Rachel would make it to the concert. Our group found a waffle and pancake house and we settled down to fuel ourselves for the evening to come.

‘Remember that girl I gave a lift to from this morning?’ I said over the table.

‘The redhead?’

‘Yes, how many girls do you think I can get on my bike?’

‘The one who borrowed my helmet you mean?’

‘That’s her yes’

‘Where is my helmet anyway? You didn’t give it back to me’

‘I though she gave it to you?’

‘No. Don’t tell me you haven’t got it…’

I started to panic. Where was the helmet? It would be bad enough to be smitten by a cute girl but stupid to have let her steal a helmet. Fortunately another friend came to my rescue.

‘Relax dude, I’ve got it locked on my bike’

I breathed a sigh of relief ‘Okay, so the girl who didn’t take your helmet, she kissed me when we got off the bikes before she left and I didn’t ask her for her number because I was standing there like an idiot’

‘Kissed you? You mean like a peck on the cheek right?’

‘No I mean a proper kiss, like a date kiss’

‘Right, because girls kiss you all the time’

‘Hey! I get my share of action guys’ I said

‘But your share is a lot less than ours’

‘Let’s not get on that again please.’ I said ‘What I wanted to say was that I asked her to the concert tonight, do you think she’ll come?’

Naturally they were all very helpful by explaining to me just how unlikely that was and how there was no way such a pretty girl would be without a boyfriend, even if she did kiss me. As I tried to refute them my morale started to slip again. she had been waiting for a guy to come and pick her up after all, he was probably her boyfriend. Maybe she thought that the kiss was payment for the ride rather than the gift I thought it was, maybe she had forgotten the whole thing already and was laughing about it with her friends right now, imagining the silly biker boy wandering the town in a haze of love.

I finished the meal in a slump, talking about it to my friends had put me right off, so I wandered off on my own after dinner, promising to meet them by the pavilion in a short while. I walked down to the end of the pier and stood looking out over the calm sea my thoughts anything but. I’d made plenty of mistakes with girls in the past and I was no great catch after all. I had thought there was chemistry but it was much likelier to be imagination. Things like that just didn’t happen to me.

Putting my jacket on against the cooling breeze I walked back down the promenade to the pavilion where my friends were waiting for me. They had moved their bikes while I was wandering around, parking them in a ragged line outside the pavilion, so I had to walk back and fetch mine too. It’s very tempting, when you know you’re only going to be on the bike for a minute or less, to just forego the helmet and gloves and take the ride with the wind in your face.

But I had seen too many silly accidents to fall for the temptation, guys who just moved their bike across the road and were knocked over by a boy racer coming round a corner too fast, girls in bikinis who had hopped on the back of a bike only to fall off and scour their skins with gravel when the rider did an unexpectedly fast start. They say that there are only old bikers and bold bikers; there are no old and bold bikers. I’d been bold enough for this day, it was time to ride sensibly.

Once I’d locked up the bike the group of us went into the venue and grabbed some drinks, no alcohol for us as we would be riding back later and it’s a stupid idea to ride a bike when you’ve had a drink, especially at night and the winding road back to London. We stood around, my friends admiring the local talent, while we waited for the support band to come on. We were dreadfully uncool as we’d turned up almost an hour before the support act came on and the venue was almost empty.

An hour later, as the support act was setting up their instruments and taping playlists to speakers the venue had filled out. Thanks to our unsophisticatedly early arrival we had grabbed prime spots just in front of the stage.

The support act struck up on their first song and out sauntered Rachel onto the stage in her steel heeled cowboy boots. She had swapped the jeans and jacket for ripped leggings and a sexy dress and had her hair up but it was definitely the girl I’d given a lift to this morning. Even her voice was familiar as she launched into the first song.

Once they’d gotten a few songs under their belt Rachel spoke to the audience ‘The next song is dedicated to my knight in shining armour who saved the day today, without him I wouldn’t have made it here. I know you’re out there and you know who you are so come see me after our set. There’s a backstage pass waiting for you’

She was special, her band was good even though they were only the supporting act, and after their set I went backstage to meet Rachel and we spent the rest of the evening together watching the main band and then taking in the after party. It was a magical night, full of promise, and the heady intoxication of unexpected love.

Ten Years on the Road

For ten years I commuted through London on a motorbike. I went through seven bikes, had three crashes, and one busted rib.

This is a pretty good run, considering just how dangerous riding a bike in London is. You remember the original Star Wars movie where at the end they had to fly down a trench while being shot at by laser cannons and chased by tie fighters? That’s an average day commuting in London.

Owning a car in London is a waste of time and energy, it’s like swimming with lead weights, or applying a cheese grater to your wedding tackle, painful and pointless. Whereas owning a motorcycle in London is great, zooming past all the idiots in their metal boxes and arriving early wherever you go is exhilarating.

My morning run into town would start in South London; from there it’s about seven or so miles to central London. Depending on where I was working that year there were a number of different routes I took. The first mile or two would be quieter and give me and the bike a chance to wake up and warm up before we hit the traffic. Once on the main arteries heading into London the traffic would be very heavy. Nose to tail cars along all the main routes into town. Bikes weren’t allowed in the bus lanes back then so you had two choices: sit behind a car and wait or filter down the middle of the road.

Filtering through heavy traffic on a big bike is where the death star trench run comes in. Wing mirrors fly straight at you before veering aside at the last moment. Your eyes narrow, scanning the path ahead, searching for the next corner, the next opportunity, the next hazard. You’re only rolling along at a piddling ten or twenty miles per hour. This is slow enough to manoeuvre but fast enough to break bones if you make the slightest mistake. At twenty miles an hour your hands are six inches from the cars on either side. The slightest slip will crush your little finger between the bars and a passing wing mirror.

I really feel sorry for the hapless autocommuters as I zoom past them. No wonder some of the more aggressive ones want to try and kill me. I’m free and they’re trapped. And don’t think that they didn’t try, the number of times my progress has been blocked at the last moment by a taxicab or BMW driver deliberately swerving to close a gap is innumerable.

Primate survival instincts perverted by metropolitan life, surrounded on all sides, going nowhere, the average car driver is the slightest provocation away from all encompassing rage. No wonder then that they see the average biker as a suitable target to vent their frustration on. They’re in an anonymous armoured box and the biker is naked and vulnerable in comparison. The biker is not one of them; the biker is _other_, a rule breaker to be punished. Crush him with the car, drive him beneath the wheels, and hear the lamentations of his women. These are the best things in life.

 There are so many hazards to watch out for: grit and rubbish on the road that will make you slip, suicidal pedestrians trying to cross the road in between vans where they have no line of sight, cyclist veering left and right without warning. The most deadly of all are cars doing sudden U turns without warning or indication. A car will pull out of traffic and block your path in a second or so, leaving you a mere fraction of a second to see it coming, react, and hit the brakes before you run into them.

 If you’re lucky they’ll see your lights at the last moment and stop before they’ve completely blocked your path. You can’t veer around them because that will send you straight into the oncoming traffic and certain death, all you can do is brake as quickly as possible.

Filtering in heavy traffic is about as dangerous as it gets on a bike. You have to be supremely alert and aware of every potential danger. I did that for an hour or so every weekday, for ten years.

The journey in would leave me alert and ready for work, fresh air and adrenalin doing the job of a dozen cups of tea. The return to home in the evening was simply a reverse of the journey in. Starting with heavy traffic and then gradually easing off, by the time I got close to home I could blast the bike a little on the quiet roads. My head would be clear again and I would be free of work worries. Those clear Zen moments at the end of the working day would more than compensate for the danger and difficulty of riding a bike in London.

The first bike I used for commuting was a Honda CB650, which was a UJMC, short for Universal Japanese Motorcycle. A UJMC is a normal motorcycle, not readily distinguishable from any number of other similar bikes; it has no fairing, little styling, and is just a plain sit up and beg motorcycle. It drove very nicely though, was reliable, cheap, and got me around and about.

I can’t understand what it is with some people, they spend their entire lives in boxes; born in a box shaped hospital, taught everything they know in a box shaped school, living their lives in a tiny boxy house, working every day in a big boxy office, and travelling to and from each of their big boxes in the little metal box with four wheels! They’re never outside for more than the time it takes to transfer from one box to another, they never see the sky except through a window, never feel the air, and never smell the atmosphere.

I soon upgraded to a Suzuki GSXR750R (1985 version) which I bought from Bat Motorcycles in South Norwood. It was a Japanese import which meant it had a speedo in kilometres per hour and a special light that came on when you went over the Japanese national speed limit of 60mph. On my test ride before buying the bike and blasting up South Norwood Hill the light came on and I panicked, thinking the engine was about to blow up. That little light annoyed me throughout my ownership of the bike because it would blink on and off as you travelled on the motorway.

The specific kit you need for riding a bike through London is fairly simple; although it took me a number of years to get it right and the exact requirements are different for every biker. I wore the mandatory helmet, a leather jacket, ordinary jeans, leather gloves and motorcycling boots. When it got wet I had two pieces of waterproof clothing to add to the ensemble: a pair of thin waterproof over trousers, and a thin waterproof over jacket that only came out for serious deluges. As I needed to carry all this around I used a magnetic tank bag to put it all in. Later on I got a top box to store things in.

For a helmet I always chose Arai, they’re expensive but worth every penny. I preferred boots that were short and tough and with a Gore-Tex lining. The specific choice of glove is always difficult. You want thin and light gloves so that you have the best feel through the bars and sensitive control of the levers. At the same time you also want warm and waterproof gloves with plenty of protection in case of a spill. In summer you want gloves that won’t leave your hands dripping with sweat after a ride and in winter you want gloves that won’t leave your fingers numb with cold. Gloves are a problem. Trying to find the right pair I went through more pairs of gloves in the early years than anything else. Eventually I settled on Hein Gericke ‘turtle’ gloves in winter and expensive racing gloves for summer. Alternatively, you could get those big handlebar muffs and look like a complete wanker.

A couple of years later I upgraded again to my first big bike, a Suzuki GSXR1100WR. A serious bike with a lot of horsepower. I bought a purple one and named it the Purple Monster. I rode this bike for years, getting it tuned, fixing the suspension, and supplementing it with a couple of others until I had my first crash.

My first crash happened because I was in the wrong place. I should have been at Santa Pod enjoying the drag racing but instead I was in central London doing some shopping because the friend who I had meant to be going to go to Santa Pod with had changed their mind at the last minute. I was going down a one way street following a completely lost tourist. They stopped in the middle of the road and I started to drive around the side. As soon as I got alongside the car the driver set off again, swinging into me and pushing the bike into a post, smashing the front end.

Crashing a bike is not fun. Before you know what’s happening a car is in your way. You hit the brakes hard. Suddenly the world flips over and the road hits you like a wall. For a moment, sliding down the road, there’s nothing but dread. What’s coming is going to hurt like hell. The pain rushes in seconds later. The world is disjointed and shattered. Staggering upright to find out what’s happened to the bike. Vision comes in snapshots, freeze frames of destruction. Your pride and joy is battered and broken, lying the wrong way up in the middle of the road. Somewhere a driver is watching, his car pristine. Other cars rush by heedless of danger.

As you start to piece together what happened the pain comes on in waves. Fractured ribs prevent you from breathing fully just when you most need the air. Scraped knees and elbows scream in protest as you lever two hundred plus kilos of bike to vertical. A distant sense of detachment comes in as if you are watching the world from the sidelines. People speak and you hear them seconds later. The air feels like water as you sink to the bottom of a deep pool.

You don’t want an ambulance. You need to get the bike back home. So you climb back on the bike, arms and legs protesting, and set off again. Fear fills you before you move. You might fall over straightaway. There’s a terrible pain in your stomach. There’s no way you can ride the bike like this. A deep primal instinct to get home drives you on. Slowly and carefully you kick the bike into first gear and let out the clutch. The bike rolls forward and an eternal moment later you’re riding again.

Later on, when the insurance details were being worked out the driver claimed that he never hit me at all. That’s when I learned that if you ride a bike, no matter what, you need a witness to get a fair deal on insurance claims. Riding a bike means that, as far as insurance is involved, you are in the wrong regardless of circumstances. Then again insurance is such a scam, they’re always keen to take your money and then they always come up with a dozen reasons why they can’t pay out when something happens.

The Purple Monster was never the same again, I had to strip off the fairing, trash the lights, and replace them with crappy aftermarket parts. I eventually sold the bike to a Scouser who drove a hard bargain. From that I learned not to deal with people who want to bargain.

I had gone through a couple of other bikes at the same time. After I’d paid off the Purple Monster I picked up a cheap Yamaha XT600 which is an off-road style bike, very tall and with long suspension. I commuted on this a few times but stopped after realising that people didn’t give way to it the way they did to the Purple Monster. The twin headlights and low stance of the GSXR were much more intimidating than the single light and spindly profile of the XT.

So I swapped my XT and a bit of cash for a Yamaha Drag Star in black and chrome. This was a custom cruiser type bike, long and low with comfy seats and wide bars. It got dirty real quick and took a lot of washing to get looking good. It was so low that the foot pegs would scrape the ground on almost every corner and I soon wore down the heels of my boots when riding it. It looked great and sounded cool thanks to some custom pipes and other chrome accessories. A bit wobbly at low speeds and the wide bars made it difficult for commuting too.

A year or so later, flush with a new well paying job, I bought my one and only brand new motorcycle, a silver KTM LC4. This was a serious bike, a supermotard capable of racing straight out of the box. This made it he best handling motorcycle I have ever owned and really improved my riding by allowing me to push the envelope, something that my other bikes just didn’t allow for. It came with only one tiny problem, the vibration. The vibration was so strong that after twenty minutes in the saddle my crutch would go numb and the numbness would start to spread from there. Long rides were out of the question. But brilliant for commuting!

Because the KTM was useless for long journeys and the Purple Monster was no longer the fine bike I had originally owned I traded the Drag Star, and a couple of grand in cash, for a nearly new silver Kawasaki ZZR1100. I chose the ZZR because I’d read about one in a novel and it was exactly the sort of bike I liked: long, sleek, fast, and powerful. This was a most excellent bike, I named her Anastasia, after Dan Dare’s spaceship, and she took my on long journeys and even worked well around town, although a touch cumbersome at low speed thanks to her size and weight. Like with the Purple Monster I spent some money on improving the suspension and replacing the exhaust when it rusted through. The ZZR lasted me for a number of years as my fortunes declined. Meanwhile I had to sell the KTM to buy a digital camera and the Purple Monster to get a laptop so I was back down to just one bike.

At night, London sleeps. This is not a brash young American city running twenty four crushing hours a day. London is an old city and she needs her rest. In the darkness, while she sleeps, there is a chance to really ride. Free of traffic the city breathes easily. With room to manoeuvre riding the bike changes from constant sharp motions to a single flowing move. In traffic you stop and start, left foot touching the road to balance the bike while stationary. At night, once you lift your foot from the road, it will not go down again until journey’s end.

Cool summer nights riding home from a friend’s place are magical times. After midnight the traffic in London has disappeared and the streets are free for your personal use. The engine thrums with contained power. Tyres whisper on tarmac, counterpointed by drumming over white lines. Traffic lights turn green by mystic processes, waving you on. Each roundabout is a chance at the perfect corner. Line up the approach, pull the outside bar to tip the bike in, find the right angle, and squeeze the throttle to launch you out of the corner towards the next. With effortless grace corner after corner leads you along an illuminated path. Zen calm settles and every moment is perfection. Nothing exists other than the rider, the bike, the road, the journey. This is the ultimate peace in motion.

My second crash was another situation where I was out of place. I was running an errand for the club, fetching a box of flyers from the printers, before heading to work. A guy pulled out in front of me and I braked heavily causing the front wheel to lock up, skid, and pitch me over. I landed on my side and fractured a rib. A busted rib means six weeks of sleepless nights and constant pain until it heals enough to be able to get some rest. This time I remembered to make sure I had a witness, fortunately a friend of mine happened to be sitting in their van and saw the whole thing so I got the bike repaired on the insurance.

Soon after getting the ZZR back from the repairers another incident occurred when I was visiting a friend. The ZZR was knocked over by a couple of idiots brawling in the street, smashing the tail end. I chased after one and got his details after he admitted knocking over the bike. Later on I managed to get him to pay for some of the dmaage he did but the ZZR was never pristine after that.

The only time I simply dropped the ZZR was the day after my grandmother died. I had gone to work as normal, preoccupied with thinking about the conversation I’d had with my mother the day before. When I arrived at work I got off the motorcycle as usual and lowered it onto the side stand as usual. The bike fell over on its side because I’d forgotten to put the side stand down.

I eventually sold the ZZR so that I could pay for my wedding. For a year and a half I was a pedestrian, taking the train and bus to work. What would have been a twenty minute bike ride turned into an hour long commute on stuffed trains and sweaty buses. How the average commuter coped with this day in and day out for years on end I have no idea. Finally I saved up enough to afford a cheap bike and bought a ten year old black Honda CBR1100XX, the infamous Blackbird. It was basically the same as the ZZR and the Purple Monster, a long sleek speed machine. The CBR handled better than the ZZR at low speed and knifed through the air at high speed. It had fairly good suspension but was well worn as the bike was ten years old. I just needed to save up enough to get the suspension sorted but circumstances have a way of turning out differently than you expected.

My last crash happened on the day we discovered that my wife was pregnant. A quick test in the morning confirmed that we were going to have a baby. I went off to work feeling great but my journey back home was interrupted. A French idiot in a left hand drive car pulled across me as I was driving down Park Lane. I hit the brakes and the front wheel skidded, flipping me and the bike onto the road where I landed on my side fracturing the same rib again and bringing back my old injury with a vengeance. My knee was badly scraped as well. Fortunately the police came and took statements and a witness had seen the whole thing. It took a year and a half but I eventually got paid for my broken bike, broken rib, and loss of a lifestyle.

I never rode again after that. As I tell my friends, it’s not the age, it’s the mileage. There’s a saying amongst bikers that there are either old bikers or bold bikers. Ten years of bold riding in London traffic was enough for me and I’d like to be old enough to see my daughter grow up.

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.