Monthly Archives: June 2007

Oh, Mama, can this really be the end?

(Part four of “teams, friends, guilds, other players and stuff”)

OK, so you’ve joined a guild. What now? Well… it depends!

Thank you, the end.

Hrm. That climactic grand finale was a bit of a let-down, really, but as Oscar Wilde once said: “There are more guilds than there are stars in the sky, and, as snowflakes, no two are alike in their infinite variety. Which is lucky, ‘cos seriously if Whistler bumps me from the Kara team one more time I’m totally going to /gquit and find another one.”

As I mentioned in the prologue, what really started this whole series was Will Wallace’s piece, “Guilds as Retention Mechanisms“. I was going to leave a comment there along the lines of “It depends!”, which then grew into a musing on the nature of guilds, which mutated into a sprawling series of posts, and has now come back to “it depends”, because as old Oscar (what a visionary) pointed out, guilds cover the gamut from a couple of people who wanted their own cool tabard to huge multi-game communities of hundreds of people, focused on any or all of PvPing, casual questing, crafting, raiding, roleplaying, and anything else you can do in a game. Coming back to the question I asked myself, did I stay in certain games longer because of the people, or did I forge closer ties with the people because I enjoyed the game and therefore played it more, my grand conclusion is: it’s both. If you’re enjoying a game, you’ve got more incentive and motivation to find groups or a guild, and they in turn (barring colossal clashes of personality and guild meltdowns) reinforce the enjoyment to keep you playing. If the game itself isn’t really working out for you, it can carry over into groups/guilds, with minor annoyances that you’d otherwise overlook becoming extra reasons to quit. Which is still a bit of a disappointingly woolly ending really. Hrm. I know! Beckett said, “always leave them with a joke”, so here’s one of his:

A man walks into a fish and chip shop, and asks for cod and chips twice, and the other man says… I heard you the first time.

Lookin’ for somethin’ you ain’t quite found yet

(Part three of “teams, friends, guilds, other players and stuff”)

(As a quick semantic diversion, I’m using “guild” in these posts as a shorthand for guild/supergroup/kinship/other game-specific term, and the general ideas carry over to other groupings too; players with common in-game chat channels, voice comms, message boards, instant messaging etc. There’s possibly the nub of another deep social treatise in there, “What is a guild?” (or “When is a guild not a guild? When it’s ajar” *badum tish*), but I’ll spare you that for now.)

The conclusion of Part Two was that guilds are a Good Thing(TM), on somewhat nebulous philosophical grounds involving dilemmas and ethics, and wombats and hatstands were in there somewhere for no adequately explained reason. So! How to find one? One option, of course, is to start your own. This, frankly, involves such an awful lot of work it makes me feel faint just contemplating it. I just plugged “How to start a guild” into Google, on the off chance there was some pithy advice I could nick, I mean, er, be inspired by, and within the first couple of pages was “the Psychotherapists’ Guild can help you find a therapist”, which sounds about right to me. Good, successful guild leaders truly have my utmost respect (and a high burn-out rate).

Another option is to boldly adventure away, strike up conversations with those you meet on your travels, and band together with like-minded types. A while back in World of Warcraft, I was running around Westfall. I’d teamed up with someone for some quest, the Defias traitor probably, they were a decent player, we chatted a bit between ambushes, they asked if I wanted to join their guild. I figured “why not”, what’s the worst that could happen? (You can see where this is going, can’t you?) So the next day, I log back in, I’m at the Sentinel Hill inn, and I see a message on guild chat, “NEED HELP 4 QEST“, or something equally literate. Normally I’d run a mile from requests like that (or possibly run a mile towards them, to really build up momentum for a decent charge, but then you remember you can’t actually hit them so it’s all a bit of waste), but the guild log showed the chap was in Westfall, and I was in Westfall, we’re similar levels, heck, why not show what a fine and helpful guildmate I was. “I’ll help!” I pipe up, “pop me an invite”. No invite is forthcoming. “NEED HELP 4 QEST“, goes the guild chat. At this point, I see the chap running down the hill. I wander over, stick a buff on him, and send a whisper (in case he hadn’t spotted guild chat) indicating my willingness to assist. Off he runs down the road. “NEED HELP 4 QEST“, goes the guild chat. With a sigh, I set off after him, preparing to once again offer help when he stops, turns around (slowly) and yells “STOP FOLLOWING ME ZOSO” (I can’t actually remember if that was a whisper, in guild chat, or maybe even shouted zone-wide. I might as well make it the latter, for comedy anecdote purposes.) Strangely enough, I didn’t stick around in that guild…

Now, I’m not saying it *never* works, but it’s bit of a lottery, depending on bumping into like-minded players. An alternative is to hit up the ol‘ game forums/fansites, and have a browse of recruitment threads. Weighing those up isn’t always easy; pretty much every guild recruitment post says their aim is to “have fun”. And I’d always thought, yeah, sounds good! Having fun, that’s what I’m after as well, sign me up! But then, having fun means different things to different people, which seems pretty staggeringly obvious, but I only really twigged when someone pointed it out. I mean, nobody’s going to start up a guild, and proclaim that their objective is to endure several months of grinding misery, detesting every moment, then quit the game, smash their PC up with a hammer and become a hermit. Least, I’ve never seen that guild advert… No, everyone’s out to “have fun”. But fun for Geoff is the achievement of getting a server-first kill of a certain boss, and the associated dedication that would require, whereas fun for Steve is logging on and having a good old natter in guild chat while killing a few goblins, and fun for Kev is taking all his clothes off (his character’s clothes, that is. Well, maybe his clothes too, but until they integrate webcams with MMOs (or “The Doom Apocalypse Time Of Hideous Doom Imagery Of Doom” as it would be known in hindsight) we thankfully don’t know) and /dancing on the bridge outside Ironforge bank. Geoff and Steve aren’t going to have much fun unless the rest of their guild are of a broadly similar mindset (Kev doesn’t care, he’s busy /dancing); Geoff’s too focused on damage, threat and healing to reminisce about 80s kid’s TV shows with Steve, and Kev’s vocabulary is pretty much limited to /saying “LOOOOOOLLL” anyway.

Still, so long as the recruitment post doesn’t solely consist of “Join us and have the fun, oh yeah!”, you should at least find a few potential matches to your play style that you can investigate in game, or on the guild’s website (if they have one).

Course, there’s plenty of other ways of finding guilds too; real life friends already in guilds (or starting new guilds with them), work colleagues, people who read the same web comic

So, you found a guild and got an invite. What now? Find out next time on… teams, friends, guilds, other players and stuff!

Roles Per Guild.

Welcome to your first guild, friend! To get you started, here’s a brief list of potential members and how to identify them:

The Guild Leader
Quote: "Holy crap, is this guild still going?"

Most likely to: Turn up when it'll interfere with guild operation most.
Least likely to: Be a leader.

The Raid Leader
Quote: "No, I don't care that Tony has contributed five copper
less to the guild funds. <takes swig of vodka> No you can't start a
raid, we're in the middle helping this guy with his attunement. <drags
on a cigarette> No, I don't care that Tina is wearing the guild tabard
as a thong again. <drinks vodka from bottle> No, I will not tell the
healer group to 'Heal Better' in raids <drags on two cigarettes at the
same time> No, I will not tell the DPS group to 'Go crit themselves'."

Most likely to: Go postal.
Least likely to: Have fond memories of their last five years in MMOs.

The Suckup
Quote: "What do you think we should do, Raid Leader?
Yes, that's what I was going to say too, you're so right.
Raid Leader! Raid Leader! Tina wore my guild tabard as a thong again, and
then gave it back without washing it!"

Most likely to: Be ganked by their own guild.
Least likely to: Take any action without approval in triplicate.

The Mouth

Most likely to: Have only just reached teen age.
Least likely to: Breathe between sentences.

The Loot-linker
Quote: "Hey look at these everyone! [Sword] [Shield] [Armour] [Bow] [Dildo] Shit.
loot-linker has disconnected from the game"

Most likely to: Link to a kitchen sink in guild chat.
Least likely to: Have an item that other people don't know about in every
excruciating and tedious detail.

The Psycho
Quote: "Oh, so you like the Assassin class do you?! So you're some kind of racist
then are you? Nazi lover. Of course you all love Nazis, it's not like
anyone loves me!"

Most likely to: Take Tom Clancy novels too seriously.
Least likely to: Be a florist in real life.

The Internet Lovers
Quote: smooch slurp giggle sigh hug

Most likely to: Sit in public areas and force their deep emotional connection
down everyone else's throats through the medium of emotes.
Least likely to: Be together once they meet in real life and realise that
they're of the same sex and neither one of them is gay.

The Silent One
Quote: "Night all."

Most likely to: Say "Night all" in the same room as the Internet Lovers when
they're in the middle of a cybersex session, scaring them
witless because they had no idea that anyone else was there.
Least likely to: Be remembered by anyone.

The Attention Seeker
Quote: "Look at me I'm doing something crazy! Look how crazy I am!

Most likely to: Be run over by a dragon whilst wearing their underpants on their head.
Least likely to: Be mistaken for the Silent One.

The Drama Major
Quote: "Myn gentil fellowes, in feyth ich haue had a joly tyme!
Verily and forsooth!"

Most likely to: Stay in character at the most inappropriate moments.
Least likely to: Be understood.

The Drama Llama
Quote: "I quit, you all suck! I am back, love me! You all hate me, I quit!
I'm baaaaack!"

Most likely to: Quit the guild.
Least likely to: Resist rejoining the guild five minutes later.

The Clique
Quote: "... do we know you?"

Most likely to: Quit the guild and form their own. With a latin name.
Least likely to: Like you.

The Real Life Champion
Quote: "Hey look at the new car I bought. My new computer has seven graphics cards.
I'd love to stay and play, but I have to go and pick up my new computer
in my new car whilst having sex with five attractive members of the
appropriate sex."

Most likely to: Work at McDonalds.
Least likely to: Wash.

The Levelling Machine
Quote: "Hrm, I have twelve raid-worthy characters, which would you like me
to bring?"

Most likely to: Wake-up one morning with the sickening realisation of what a
horrid waste of time and energy it all was.
Least likely to: Recognise the big glowing ball of fire in the sky.

The Alt King
Quote: "Hi! What? It's meeee. Oh, yeah, I re-rolled.
This new character is way better, I just wasn't getting on with the
last one."

Most likely to: Have rolled three new characters by the time you finish reading this.
Least likely to: Reach the next level on their current character.

The Knowledge Font
Quote: "You are quite wrong. As can be seen by the four spreadsheets I have
produced with special information that only I know because I'm the dev's
favourite and they whisper to me in my dreams."

Most likely to: Talk over someone else to prove that they know the answer too.
Least likely to: Avoid being sickeningly smug in any situation.

The Good Guy
Quote: "Hey! Are you guys groovy? We're all groovy! Let's all be groovy
and just get along. Groovy."

Most likely to: Not cause guild drama, and to play calmly and happily to the
best of their ability.
Least likely to: Exist in any guild. Alas.

Toon on blondes.

The next generation of MMO players are already in training in games such as Toontown, and your intrepid adventurers of all things massive and multiplayer ventured forth into this strange new world to find out what MMO means to younglings that may never have heard of Everquest or World of Warcraft.

After getting past the initial hurdle of the hideous installation process, which involves Internet Explorer (AND ONLY INTERNET EXPLORER. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED), ActiveX controls, Flash installations and multiple webpage bizarreness, the game loads and you’re presented with the character creation screen. Character creation is a simplistic affair, although it still offers more customisation than certain popular MMOs that one could mention. Zing! Take that, Big Kid’s MMOs!

To start off with you choose the sex of your character and then Minnie or Mickey Mouse will lead you through the rest of the creation process depending on your choice. The girls go with Minnie, the boys with Mickey, in case there are any deviant ‘Minnie Mouse fanfic’ writers out there. Next you can choose what sort of toon you will play, such as a monkey, dog, cat or rabbit; height, body shape and head size can be altered, followed by body colour, which can vary from limb to limb as demonstrated by my lovely assistant Prof. Spiffy Frinkelzilla in the picture from yesterday’s post. Clothing options come next, which includes style and colour, although you scroll through the options one at a time and each colour choice is effectively a new item, so if you don’t like the Hawaiian shirt option you have to scroll through all the colour choices for that shirt style until you get to the next one. A minor niggle really, although for inveterate character customisers such as myself it got a bit frustrating when I had picked a shirt design and then found a pair of shorts I liked the look of but which didn’t match that shirt, thus forcing me to scroll back through many items to find a new style of shirt that I liked. Whether people will be focussing on that niggle, or on how much effort I put into creating a cartoon character for a three day trial of a game for seven year olds is open for debate. But Sir Monty was the coolest cat on the block by far, which considering he is in actual fact a rabbit, shows just how cool we’re talking here.

Finally name generation is required, and this is where the ‘this game is for kids’ aspect is highlighted for the first time. You can choose a name and type it in, as per normal MMOs, but it will be sent for approval before being allowed in the game, so no cartoon characters called Bugs Bunny69 or the Cockulator, which is a seriously good thing for a kids game but also not a bad idea for a Big Kid’s MMO either, in my opinion. The other option, if you don’t want to wait for approval, is to pick from a list of approved names which you build into a combination; there’s an optional title, a forename and an optional surname which is made of two separate words combined, ‘thunder’ and ‘nerd’ seemed appropriate for me, so I went with that. There are some awesomely bizarre names in the name selection menu, and you can therefore create some weird and wacky combinations without too much trouble. My wife, who was staring over my shoulder in mild bemusement at the antics of Zoso and I, was particularly tickled by a duck we saw named Fat Max Spacklefoot; kudos to you Fat Max, the ministry of silly names salutes you!

Once you’ve created your masterpiece of anthropomorphized slapstick, you’re popped into the game’s very brief tutorial which, as with most MMOs, introduces you to the basic controls and interface elements. The game uses the arrow keys to steer the character around and there’s no mouse look, which is excellent in the fact that you won’t see any characters spinning through three hundred and sixty degrees at improbable speeds, but it does force you into becoming a keyboard turner by default. Being used to slightly more flexible controls as we Big Kids are, this made the thing feel very clunky, but I imagine it would translate well to the various console platforms which is perhaps the main motivation behind the restrictions. Also, this is a game for kids so, you know, I probably shouldn’t be expecting a scriptable UI and multi-macro keybinds. Besides, you get used to the controls in short order as you progress through the introductory quests.

And quest you do. It really hits you quite quickly that Toontown is indeed a fully-fledged MMO training ground for kids, a staging ground for raising the next generation of virtual warriors and warriettes.

The basic concept of the game is thus: Cogs are invading Toontown and you need to help stop them. The Cogs are robots which manifest themselves in the manner of various ‘dull’ themes from the real world, such as bankers, lawyers, bureaucrats and Pop Idol. Ok, not the last one. Not that I discovered anyway; it’s probably an end of game boss, thinking about it. These semblances of seriousness are prone to self-destruct under the onslaught of a player character’s good ol’ cartoon tomfoolery, or Gags. Gags are the character abilities of the game; as you level up these abilities you can gain more powerful versions of them, and as you perform quests you earn the opportunity to learn new classes of gags. You start off with two basic attacks: throwing a pie at the mob, or squirting water at them. It was hard to progress far into the game, but we did get far enough to see the next class of gags, one of which was an AoE attack and the other was a group heal ability; as Zoso pointed out, if people have the opportunity to shout out “HEAL MEH!!1” it must be a proper MMO.

And a proper MMO it is.

It has the grind of a proper MMO, with the two new classes of gags requiring an inordinate number of quests to be performed before you qualify to go on the final ‘gag quest’ to earn the right to use that class of gags. You can only pick one of the two new gag classes at any one time, so assuming you wanted to learn the other class of gags, you’d have to grind out a whole load more quests. New gags within each class are earned by using the existing ones. To level up throwing gags, you throw pie at mobs and each time you do your progress is shown on a meter to let you know how far you’ve progressed. Throw enough pies and you get the chance to throw… bigger pies! For slightly more damage! It’s easy to mock, but when you think about it it’s exactly what you get in a lot of popular MMOs these days; many of the rewards for achieving the next level on your character are just the same abilities, but ever so slightly more powerful.

Observing an MMO distilled into its most basic essence so that it is accessible to children makes you realise just how much smoke and mirror schemes are employed to give the sense of achievement and purpose that is the foundation of the grown-up games.

Mmmmm, deep. Ok, it was about as deep as a paddling pool. Speaking of paddling pools: combat! Nice link, eh? Smooth. Seamless. I should be on the radio. Speaking of radios: combat! Combat in the game is a matter of running up to a mob until you make contact with them, which will then initiate combat mode. As MMO training for kids, this can only be forging a new generation of Leeroy Jenkins and tanking cloth wearers who think that the only way to pull is to throw yourself bodily at the enemy, but it keeps things simple and obviously that’s the name of this particular game. Actually the name of the game is Toontown, if it was called Simpletown I don’t think it would go down so well, less so if they shortened it to Simpleton. Anyway! Once in combat your available abilities pop up on the screen, you pick one, and if you’re fighting several mobs you pick which one to aim at. You don’t group in the game, instead anyone can join a battle in progress up to a maximum of four players. This is quite a refreshing way of doing things, as it doesn’t matter if the mob is nearly dead or at full health, if there’s a space and you join before the mob dies then you get credit for helping defeat it. It’s open to abuse, obviously, but this is a game for kids so I’m not sure that AFK Whore and XP Leech is likely to be a part of their vocabulary. The combat is turn based, where the toon group takes a go, then the Cog gets to return fire. The group gets twenty seconds or so to take their turn, so if you’re used to Guild Wars pace you’re probably going to think the world has stopped turning, but for anyone being introduced to the genre for the first time it provides enough of a sense of urgency to be entertaining, especially if you’re seven years old.

To further it’s classification to proper MMO status, mobs wander the streets and will add to the combat if they come close enough to your group while you are fighting, where everyone is locked stationary in position until all engaged enemies are defeated. The respawn rate was pretty crazy in some areas, and for such a ‘basic’ game it actually got pretty hairy on several occasions as additional mobs joined the fight just before we finished the current batch. At one point we had so many adds that defeat was inevitable and it prompted Zoso to jokingly exclaim “I donut leik this game. It’s too hard. I’m going back to something easy for seven year olds. Like WoW“. To which I could only cry “Forsooth!”. They’ve got eight million customers, but you can be sure that Blizzard still feels the burn of biting social commentary from a couple of obscure MMO bloggers. Oh yes.

Once you’ve completed your quests (and quests can take an age to complete, because just like in ‘real’ MMOs, mobs of the type that you need for your quest are never to be found until after you no longer need them, then you can’t move for that type of mob but can’t find the new ones you’re looking for) you can warp back to town, where warping is represented by you pulling a comedy hole out of your pocket, popping it onto the floor and jumping into it. Nice! This same animation is used for a lot of the cool travel warping abilities; a really cool one is the ability to warp to the location of anyone in your friends list. Genius! Absolute joyous revelation! Alas, anyone trained on Toontown is going to hit serious shellshock once they delve into one of the world-spanning, FedEx delivering, ever-running MMOs that the big kids play.

You have a limited number of gags to use before they run out, but never fear for they are easily recharged by hopping on the magic tram and visiting one of a number of mini-game areas. As with combat, anyone can jump on the tram while it’s waiting at the station, and then whoever is aboard when it leaves joins together in a quick one minute mini-game which is selected at random. There are various games, the ones I played either involved cooperating as a team and getting a group bonus if you all achieved the goals (such as a perfect round on swimming through a bunch of rings), or they involved competing and trying to outperform the other players in the game to get the biggest reward. Even in a game for seven year olds, PvP is a brutal gladiatorial struggle to the death! Well, not ‘to the death’ so much as ‘for greater quantities of jelly beans’, where jelly beans are the currency that you use to replenish your stock of gags. Again, good training for the hostility of future MMOs, and some players were probably a little too desperate to win the Apple Catching tournament, or Minnie Mouse’s dancing competition. I caught myself at one point in a game desperately shoving other player characters out of the way in order to get the best position to catch the juicy red appley rewards dropping from the sky, suddenly I realised the full horror of the barbaric PvP training camps that were churning out the next wave of gankers. Then I slapped myself and realised that seven year olds running around and enthusiastically nudging each other out the way is all part and parcel of playing at that age, and I was perhaps being a little too fatalistic in the face of cartoon animals chasing after fruit. It was late and I’d had a lot of coffee. Coffee makes me weirder than usual. On the scale of weirdness, that’s very weird, to non-experts.

And that’s about the gist of it for the short time period we played. Disappointingly for an MMO demo. a whole raft of functionality was disabled to the trial player, so I couldn’t, for example, try the go-kart racing or the chat functionality; for chatting in the trial you’re limited to selecting phrases from a menu, but it’s very well implemented, with a huge range of phrases sensibly and tidily organized in menus, allowing you to spam ‘Rock and Roll’ over and over, or explain exactly what quest you’re on and how many mobs you need to complete it. Rock and Roll! One final feature that I’ll mention that was available in the trial, although I didn’t play with it much, was player housing in an Animal Crossing stylee, allowing you to furnish the place with rewards and vendor-bought items!

I know! Player housing. From the outset. These seven years olds are spoilt I tell you! Why, back in the day there wasn’t any housing to speak of, you just covered yourself with a sheet if you were lucky enough to have received such a rare drop, otherwise you hid under a tree! And that’s only if your coal-powered graphics engine supported trees…

Temptation’s page flies out the door

(Part two of “teams, friends, guilds, other players and stuff”)

OK, so we saw an MMOG version of the prisoner’s dilemma in the previous post, but just to bludgeon the point home, a couple of other examples.

An armoursmith, woodworker, weaponsmith and a cook go into the Great Barrows, and the landlord says “why the long face?”, and the armoursmith, says “Arrrr! It’s driving me nuts!” No, wait, sorry, took a wrong turn into random jokes there…

A armoursmith, woodworker, weaponsmith and a cook go into the Great Barrows. Amidst the chests brimming with gold and loot (well, a few bits of silver and nowhere near enough chalices for the like of some bloke in Bree who must have a *serious* drink problem, as he wants fifteen of them from *each* of you) are plans for a solid iron breastplate, a barbed wooden spear, a deadly bronze sword and a recipe for lobster thermidor aux crevette with a mornay sauce served in a Provencale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pate, brandy and a fried egg on top and spam (obviously the undead value French cuisine as highly as implements of war). Optimal scenario: each crafter only rolls “need” for the item they can actually use, everyone ends up happy. Not so optimal scenario: everyone rolls “need” for everything, the good ol‘ dice determine who gets what. Least optimal scenario: half the group only roll “need” for what they can use, the other half rolls “need” for everything, the former end up with more stuff at the expense of the latter, everyone starts bickering about loot, the other three ask the cook what, exactly, he’s doing rustling up tasty snacks while they’re crafting useful weapons and armour, and while he’s trying to explain the advantages of the buffs provided by various foodstuffs a bunch of Wights come along, kill everyone, and wander off nibbling on lobster claws.

I had to think pretty hard about City of Heroes, as until about a month ago there was no loot in the game, and it features such heavy instancing that competition for wandering mobs is hardly a problem, but even there a comparable situation could arise. If you have a group of two level 25 heroes and one level 21 hero, you can easily fight level 25 mobs. The level 21 probably doesn’t contribute too much to the fight, but they rake in the XP from the group defeating much higher level opponents. Now, CoH has an option that allows a higher level character to “sidekick” a lower level; one of the level 25s could sidekick the level 21 who would then effectively fight as a level 24 (one level below their mentor). More use in combat, so mobs should be defeated faster to the benefit of the group as a whole, but the sidekicked character doesn’t gain so many XP because the opponents are only one level higher, rather than four. That’s not technically a prisoner’s dilemma, as the choice is only taken by one character; perhaps there’s another name for it (“prisoner’s semi-dilemma with one and a half twists and pike”, maybe), but it’s good enough for my basic point, which is:

There are situations in MMOGs where you can optimise your own gold/loot/XP/quest completion at the expense of others. I’m no game theorist, so I’ll just flail around here for a bit and paste random words in from Wikipedia like dominant strategy, non-zero sum game, Nash Equilibrium and Pareto optimum to make myself look clever and hopefully back that up. There should probably be graphs or something. Anyway! There are ways of getting ahead, not in an evil “muahahahaha” full-on griefing way, just optimising your own reward, being a bit selfish, stuff that doesn’t directly flout the rules of the game (but will spark many pages of message board discussions). And why not? Why give a damn about other members of a pick-up group, or random people you bump into while questing; on a populous server, you’ll probably never meet them again, and they’re probably thinking the same way, so it’s just self defence.

Back to the question from part one, then: how to avoid bozos, and the propagation of bozo-ism? Well, if you arrange things so you’re normally out and about with a smaller subset of the server population like, say, a “guild”, there’s a couple of effects. Firstly the one-off prisoner’s dilemma is turned into an iterated version, you keep running the choices knowing the previous outcomes. In that situation, it’s a better long term strategy to keep playing nice, even before you add further incentives (like possibly being kicked from a guild if you choose your own gain at their expense). Secondly, the matrix of results can look a bit different. A shiny piece of armour that you can’t wear drops while you’re in a pickup group; if you roll and win it, you could sell it. If someone else wins it, no benefit to you at all. If, on the other hand, you’re in a guild group and a shiny piece of armour drops, if Geoff the tank wins it there *is* a benefit to you: Geoff can tank better, you can tag along with Geoff in harder dungeons and potentially win the shiny loot that might drop there. Win-win!

Bear in mind, this is still a gross oversimplification of… well, everything really. It is possible to find pick-up groups of kind, fun people who you never see again (not likely, I grant you, but *possible*); there are game mechanics that reward successful team play over selfishness. There’s all sorts of situations with any number of motivations for players to act in any number of ways (there’s some barely studied philosophy of “ethics“, or something, which I don’t think anybody’s really written anything about over the past few thousand years… if you have a spare half hour, there’s a rather interesting programme on altruism that’s quite fun). Apart from anything else, I’ve conveniently ignored the fact that guilds do nothing to change my *original* prisoner’s dilemma, of hunting the same hatstands as someone from the other faction on a PvE server, but it was such a nice example I had to lead with it anyway. (I’m afraid the best I can come up with there is trying to convey, through the medium of interpretive dance and other emotes, that you should co-operate in your hunt.) I’m rather hoping nobody will notice… look! Over there! A badger! Can you see? I think he’s got a gun!

So. Guilds: good things for encouraging people not to be bozos. Everyone join one today! Simple.

Of course, it isn’t quite that simple, is it? As we’ll find out in the next exciting (for certain values of “exciting”) episode of “teams, friends, guilds, other players and stuff”.

Who framed Billy Blogger?

Inspired by Van Hemlock’s Operation Cheapseats, and with Zoso pointing out that a cartoon MMO does in fact exist in the form of Disney’s Toontown. Your intrepid explorers of other worlds set out to investigate the three day trial of this epic MMO.

And boy, did we have a lot of fun on day one!

Introducing your hosts for the event:

Zoso (left) and Melmoth (not left).

More to follow!

Ah, my friends from the prison

(Part one of “teams, friends, guilds, other players and stuff”)

I had one of those fun quests, “Kill 10 wombats, 10 badgers and 10 hatstands”, where there’s packs of roaming wombats and badgers everywhere, but only two hatstands in the entire zone (probably because wombats and badgers have little use for hats, and thus by extension hatstands, although for some strange reason each hatstand is totally surrounded by numerous wombats and badgers). So I’d racked up the 10 wombats and badgers in a couple of minutes, and was on 3/10 hatstands when I saw someone else, of the other faction. Someone else hunting hatstands. Oh dear. On a PvP server, it’s nice and simple, you’d just kill them and get on with it. Or try and kill them, be ganked by the stealthy rogue hiding next to them, and get corpse camped for the next half hour, prompting you to send out a call for help, bringing a posse of guildmates to sort out the nasty old enemy and camp their corpses, just for a little while to teach them the error of their ways, prompting *them* to summon forth further guildmates and allies, and so on and so forth until the entire population of the server is locked in deadly conflict, digging series of trenches and fortifications opposite each other and contemplating amphibious operations in the Dardanelles in an attempt to break the deadlock, while the native badgers and wombats sit around their hatstands watching the whole affair with detached interest while eating popcorn. Like I said, nice and simple.

On a PvE server, though, it’s a dilemma. Specifically, the prisoner’s dilemma. If you both co-operate, clear out surrounding badgers and wombats and take it in turns tagging hatstands, it’ll take a while but you’ll both get through it in the end. If you both go all out to try and tag hatstands as soon as possible, you’ll wind up covered in too many wombats and badgers to handle, and die a lot. So why don’t you co-operate? ‘Cos obviously the optimal strategy for a single player is to let the other poor bozo engage the wombats and badgers, then you jump in and grab the hatstand at the end of it, and run off laughing. And you know that, they know that, you know that they know that, they know that you know that they know (etc.), so it ends up with the pair of you standing *just* outside aggro range of the wombats, hands poised over your weapons, while Alessandro Alessandroni whistles away in the background. Nine times out of ten, you’re both perfectly reasonable people, but the possibility that the other person might be a bozo forces[1] you to pre-emptively behave in an indistinguishable-from-bozo-like fashion yourself.

[1] OK, obviously it doesn’t *force* you to behave like that, it’s only a silly computer game, what does it matter if they go around grabbing all the hatstands and it takes you a bit longer to finish the quest yourself? There’s far worse things going on in the world, get some perspective![2]

[2] Yeah, right. Like there’s anything more important than getting even with that kill-stealing jerk over there…

If the other hatstand hunter is in your faction, of course the optimal strategy of grouping up to hunt hatstands is far more attractive, but there’s any number of further counter-reasons for not wanting to team up (‘cos you get into loot issues, or maybe there’s three of you, four of the other team so you can’t form a single group, or the other player doesn’t respond to tells or team invites, or you just don’t feel like grouping ‘cos you can’t face the strained small talk and social awkwardness of extricating yourself afterwards…)

Anyway, that original stand-off was resolved as I was pretty bored of badgers and wombats by that point anyway, so I wandered off and did something else, returning for the hatstands later with some backup to make wombat-clearing easier. But the question is, how to avoid bozos, and the propagation of bozo-ism? Well that’s where guilds can come in…

(Ooh, a cliffhanger, it’s just like Doctor Who)

(Except for being exciting in any way, but never mind)

Seein’ your world of people and things

I was cruising around the Blogipelago over the weekend and found some interesting stuff from Will Wallace, particularly Guilds as Retention Mechanisms, which set me thinking. The MMOGs I’ve played longest are the ones I’ve had closest ties to in-game friends/guildmates; is that why I played them longer, or did I play longer because I enjoyed the game, and as a result of that formed closer ties with people? Very chicken and egg. Ahhh! (Stop that! – Ed.)

Anyway, teams, friends, guilds, other players… plenty of food for thought there, enough for a series of blog posts, I think. Unless I get bored and wander off.

Sigh. Fie.

Summer: when a young poster’s thoughts turn to flights of MMO genres. Actually it’s more about the lack of such MMOs than anything, but the question to my mind is: will they add any depth to the MMO market? The problem is not with the different genres themselves – I’m as keen as the next grindmonkey to play a decent sci-fi MMO – but whether these games will be anything more than a fresh bed sheet to place on the well worn, lumpy and slightly mouldy mattress of MMO design.

Everyone is talking about the potential StarCraft MMO. Blizzard, in one of their ‘Ahhhhhhh! No, not ahhhhhh!’ moments has recently announced StarCraft II. Of course, everyone in MMOland who wants to see a StarCraft MMO has slaughtered the customary sacrificial ten rats, rummaged through their entrails and soothsaid that this is clearly the staging ground for the announcement of a StarCraft MMO. I can tell you that they’re right, and I’m proud to be able to print a small excerpt from a design document, smuggled out from the depths of the Blizzard Empire:

Welcome to the great Terran refinery of Vespeneforge. In the centre of this great futuristic city are the fiery Plasma Drivers that power the Terran industry. Around this core, Terran crafters can be seen refining minerals and vespene gas and turning them into hundreds of utterly worthless objects such as Bronze Combat Pistols and Power Swords of the Monkey. The commerce ring, which surrounds the great plasma core, harbours all manner of goods vendors that players will just never visit because all the items they sell were too expensive to buy at level one, and are useless compared to their current gear at level two. However, it’s a handy place to go if you ever find yourself in the need for Protoss cheese (just don’t ask how they make it, but be sure that it involves bodily functions) or a Zerg burger (Mmmm, tastes like Terran!).

There’s also the intergalactic financial trade house, where players can try to sell their otherworldly garbage, whilst dribbling over neon-purple weapons such as the Minerite Reaper, the mighty gun Raled’kohr or the legendary laser sword Cashbringer.

Travel between locations is swift: players can jump on an automated hover bike and let its autopilot take them to one of many pre-programmed destinations for a small fee. Later, when they’ve gained enough levels, players can purchase their own hover bike for greater freedom, and when they finally reach the level cap they’ll have the option to buy an epic hover bike which goes a bit faster, has slightly fancier decals and more chrome trim. Travel between planets is simply a matter of waiting for a giant galactic barge, which arrive at the local space docks at regular intervals.

Players will be able to pick from a range of weird and wonderful classes, such as the Space Warrior, Galactic Doctor and Cosmic Psychic! Players can also participate in a number of excellent gathering professions, whether it be as a celestial herbalist harvesting space plants, or as an astro-miner gathering minerals with their laser pick…

Can’t wait!

Tabula Rasa is obviously on the radar when it comes to the sci-fi MMO invasion’s second wave, but will it do enough differently to make a difference, or is it going to rely on the fact that it’s in a sci-fi setting to do most of the work? With the slightly more frenetic combat – sticky aiming reticules and such – it seems as though they’re trying to change the dynamic of interaction with the game and move away from the standard fare. The thing that grates with me at the moment is Logos. Logos is magic. Logos is the guys there saying, “well we’ve got this wonderful sci-fi setting, we’ve added a few blasters in, but it’s not fantastic enough. What we need is magic. Let’s make something that isn’t magic, but is really. I know, we’ll call it Logos, which is like Legos, and everyone loves Legos, right?” Ok, nothing to do with Lego, I know. It’s like someone found Arthur C. Clarke’s three laws, got to number three – Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.- and thought, “Oh thank the lord! We were wondering how to crowbar magic into this game, and now we don’t have to worry! Dave, see if Asimov came up with any laws that will allow us to cram some orcs and elves in too”. Now I haven’t played the game, so obviously I’m going on the titbits that have been dribbled out at various events, but from what I can tell, Logos is an arcane language that once learned will let characters perform weird and wonderful abilities, such as buff their team-mates and damage enemies. Sound familiar?

Logos sounds excellent as a game mechanic, but it just annoys me when RPGs (and PnP games are often as much at fault) try to force fantasy staples into a sci-fi setting. Why? It’s sci-fi, for crying out loud. What, you don’t think that there’s enough potential for compelling, wondrous adventures without magic and orcs? You’ve got spaceships that you could craft like bases in CoH; ship-to-ship combat; planet invasions and mechs. Alien races; androids; cyborgs; power armour and mechs. Hover bikes; VTOL cars; teleporters and mechs. Lasers; phasers; tasers and light-sabre razors. Space stations; space nations; space crustaceans; mechs; rockets; electric sockets and blasters in your pockets. AI; VR; RSI; mechs; cyberspace; cybernaughts and cybershorts. With all this and more, in the name of the Spaghedeity, why do we need magic, elves and orcs in a sci-fi setting?

Oh, and mechs! Those lumbering platforms of shiny metal death. I forgot to mention those.

Shiny metal death? I think I just invented a new music category there. Take the smiley, happy banshee vocals of REM’s Michael Stipe and place it over the thrashing guitar monstrosity that is Napalm Death. If that doesn’t ruin a generation of music listeners, nothing will.


I would love to see a decent original sci-fi MMO (one that is slightly more accessible then EVE, although I do enjoy pootling around in that from time to time), but the reason I want to see one is not so much for the change of setting, as welcome and refreshing as that would be; no, the main reason I want to see a sci-fi MMO is that it might force developers to break the train of generic fantasy MMO staple that is being fed to us regularly with an ever so slightly different IP as back-story. City of Heroes took the comic book genre, made a game that was based on fitting in to that universe and made a great game that broke many of the foundations of MMO tradition. If you were to create a cartoon MMO, based in the ACME world of the Warner Brothers, say, it would be much easier to break the common themes that MMOs tend to share, and go for something original and wacky, which might in its construction reveal new ways to approach the idea of how to present MMOs to an ever expanding and diverse audience. The danger is that, in the RP world, most sci-fi has evolved from a fantasy setting, just look at Warhammer’s 40k with its wonderful futuristic setting, and it’s orcs, elves and dwarves. No, calling them Eldar and Squats does not make them a unique sci-fi race. Sorry.

If developers are going to reap the rewards of the sci-fi genre, they need to approach it from a sci-fi mindset, by reading the Asimovs and Arthur C. Clarkes and building a game around those settings, rather than taking Generic Fantasy Setting Number Six and trying to wedge a game into the mechanics that support that world.

And it should probably have mechs.

Or else.

Thought for the day.

Compare and contrast:

In quantum mechanics each electron must occupy its own energy state. When electrons are compressed together, as they are in a white dwarf, the number of available low energy states is too small and therefore numerous electrons are forced into high energy states. When this happens the electrons are said to be degenerate. The pressure caused by this effect is known as electron degeneracy pressure; it is the force that supports white dwarf stars against their own gravity, and because the pressure arises from this quantum mechanical effect it is insensitive to temperature.

In forum mechanics each poster must occupy their own outrage state. When posters are compressed together, as they are in a popular MMO forum, the number of available low outrage states is too small and therefore numerous posters are forced into high outrage states. When this happens the posters are said to be degenerate. The pressure caused by this effect is known as forum poster degeneracy pressure; it is the force that supports MMO forums against their own egos, and because the pressure arises from this forum mechanical effect it is insensitive to flames.

So there you go, conclusive proof that all those people who post nothing but bitter invective, trolls and flame-bait to forums are not only inevitable, but are actually preventing the forum from collapsing in on itself, forming a black hole and destroying the world!