Daily Archives: February 9, 2009

Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.

If you haven’t heard about the little hoo hah that’s happened recently in EVE Online, where have you been? And do they do package holidays there?

It’s been quite the debacle, and has had That Section of the MMOsphere all a-blather for the past week or so. That Section of the MMOsphere being defined as those people who play EVE Online, along with those people who like watching the aftermath of a relatively catastrophic event; the sort of people who witness a train derailing off of a bridge and landing on a passenger ferry that was sailing beneath. And then, when a 747 crash lands into the resulting wreckage, shout ‘Oh my god! Oh. My. God!’ and ‘Cool!’ and ‘Did you get that on camera? Because we can totally get £250 on You’ve Been Framed!’

Getting the actual story was tricky, first it was a ‘basic’ GoonSwarm Intelligence Agency spy who had infiltrated the BoB organisation at its highest level; then that spy evolved into none other than the Grand Poobah of EVE spydom The Mittani; then it wasn’t The Mittani; then it wasn’t a GIA spy at all, but a BoB director who had defected; then it wasn’t a direct defection, but an inverse semi-defection-tuck with three and a half twists, as the director, having been caught in a minor GoonSwarm scam, had offered up the front door key and back door key to BoB, all the keys in fact, including the one to the big red button labelled ‘Alliance disband button. Do not press. In fact, we’re not even sure why we have a big bastard button for doing something that we’re never going to want to do. Whatever. Just don’t press it’. It was the real world equivalent of scamming some random chap on the street out of twenty quid, only to have him realise the scam for what it was and rather than getting a big stick, all of his mates, and showing you just what he thought of your cheeky chappy hustling, he instead confesses that he’s actually the Chancellor of the Exchequer and would you like access to the content of Her Majesty’s Treasury? And as an added bonus he can pass a law disbanding England and opening up the land to any claim by its Scottish, Welsh and Irish neighbours.

I’ll just pause while all of our Scottish, Welsh and Irish readers salivate at the thought for a bit.

The upside to all of this lies in the future, and not in the future of EVE, although it has generated a wealth of renewed excitement around the game for its fans as the GoonSwarm/BoB stalemate of many years was broken, if only for a short while. No, because of this event I’m now looking forward even more to the future game that will be CCP’s World of Darkness Online.

I’ve been a big fan of the World of Darkness in the past; I have the first edition Vampire and Werewolf source books sitting on my RPG shelf, along with Mage and Changeling. I was drawn into the WoD by my pen and paper RPG group at school, and I fell quickly in love with the dark gothic world that White Wolf created, inhabited by all manner of fantastic supernatural creatures, and the Cthulhu-esque idea of normal humans having to deal with witnessing such unbelievable creatures and events. The one thing that really stuck with me, both from the pen and paper and live action role-playing games, was the political intrigue and machinations that were enabled, nay positively required, for the game to come alive. For me it was what set the series apart from your standard hack’n’slash dungeon runner RPG. The Storyteller system for Vampire (and to a lesser extent Werewolf, more so again with Changeling) had societal structure at its core, and your place in that society defined the essence of your character; yes you were an individual, you created a unique idea of your vampiric self, but you were fundamentally a Nosferatu, a Ventrue, a Toreador within the Camarilla. Caitiff excepted. How you interacted with other players and NPCs was in a large part dictated by your clan. The whole clan structure was set up for political intrigue and infighting: a ruling clan, a clan that thinks it should be ruling, a clan of disfigured spies and informants who hate all the other clans for their ‘normality’, a clan of aesthetes who detest the spying clan for their hideous nature both in form and function. The stage was set for war, for intrigue, back-stabbing and misinformation, and the game never failed to disappoint.

Sound familiar?

If CCP can hold on to the frankly genius level of freedom that they’ve given their player base in EVE Online, whilst perhaps making the World of Darkness slightly more accessible than that of New Eden, they have the making of an absolute classic translation of the White Wolf pen and paper game to the online massively multiplayer space, because when you let people play in any way they want, they always play the part that humanity best knows how: monsters.

Incidentally, for anyone who hasn’t caught Being Human on the BBC yet, and who likes any of those early World of Darkness games, be sure to catch it on repeat, it’ll probably seem awfully familiar in places.

We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it

When I was growing up I loved Commando comics and other similar Boy’s Own tales of military derring-do. From these, I learnt the average soldier’s day consisted of rushing around, killing Germans by the score (frequently with accompanying witticisms, often food based; “hey, sausage munchers, try these pineapples” a grenade hurling Tommy might exclaim), then home in time for tea and medals. I started to get an inkling these stories might be ever so slightly romanticised (possibly not the right word, god forbid any of our lantern jawed heroes should take time out from butchering Nazis, especially for anything so unpleasant as kissing girls, ugh) when, slightly older, I started reading real soldiers’ memoirs. The most surprising thing from my battle-hungry perspective was the tiny amount of time actually spent shooting Germans compared to training, marching around, digging holes, being shelled and the other day to day activities of the average soldier.

Now, in games, there’s a similar sort of effect. Most games give the Commando comic version of war, constant fighting, never ending waves of enemy for you to shoot, and a good thing too. Medal of Honour: Trudge Around For Several Days Then Get Blown Up By A Mortar Shell Without Even Seeing An Enemy Soldier, not really an appealing prospect. Another way you can tell that a World War II FPS isn’t the height of realism is a quick bit of arithmetic. Over the course of Call of Duty 1, 2 and expansion packs, I’ve been personally responsible for wiping out approximately two and a half Axis infantry divisions, four armoured regiments and a few squadrons of dive bombers in the bits where you get hold of an anti-aircraft gun. By these measures, the invasion and liberation of continental Europe would have required a total Allied force of twenty three people, and seven of those just to fill in when others had to go AFK for their tea.

Stepping up from FPSs to a more strategic level, you get a different sort of unreality in command and control, again obviously quite intentionally; especially in the pre-radio era, if you were commanding an army you’d draft an order based on what you could make of the battlefield from observation and sketchy reports, give it to a rider, hope he found the unit you intended to give the order to without getting lost or killed on the way, and that the commander of that unit interpreted the order the way you intended, at the right time, and wasn’t in a huff with the brother-in-law he was supposed to be supporting. Though I understand a few games for real grognards do take this into account, for the most part in something like the Total War games, you order your cavalry to charge and they do, in the direction you intended.

I am struggling towards a point other than the frankly shocking revelation that computer games designed for entertainment aren’t highly accurate simulators of the horrific nature of war, honest. It’s about the other WAR: Warhammer Online. In the way the Warhammer campaign works, PvP-centric, capturing zones in order to attack fortresses and ultimately the enemy capital, it’s slightly more reminiscent of an actual war (only very slightly, of course, I’m already trivialising things in a quite disrespectful enough way as is). You need to work together, in relatively large numbers, to capture zones. If there’s more than token opposition you need organisation, people defending keeps and objectives, responding to threats as they arise, and as a grunt that can be a little dull if you’re standing around somewhere the enemy don’t attack. I’ve just spent half an hour travelling across Dragonwake, then sitting, defending a battlefield objective (making a few notes for this very post in fact, but don’t worry, having the second screen back with the new graphics card meant I was keeping an eye on the game); when Destruction did turn up there were hundreds of the buggers, and we got steamrollered in short order (“short order” – that’ll be Dwarfs, I guess). That seems to be a fairly representative sample of open RvR recently, travelling, waiting, and if you’re lucky a fight at the end of it; something like a “proper” war. There are command and control issues as well; on the plus side, to co-ordinate your attacks, there’s instant, guaranteed communication between players with /tells and custom channels, but against that… there’s instant, guaranteed communication between all players, in the form of region wide channels. Without a hierarchical structure, dictatorial leadership styles seldom going down terribly well, so you get all the associated fun debate around that. I’m not so dedicated, or indeed masochistic, to try and get involved in organisation, though, so I’m happy enough to go where I’m told by our warband leader, and have a web browser up on the second screen so I’m not too tempted to read the regional channels during downtime.

Ultimately, this could all be a bit of an issue for me in WAR. While on the “players controlling their destiny” scale it’s not up in EVE’s “holy crap, there goes the universe” league, it does need a fairly significant investment in time to really get involved, and you’re at the mercy of the number of players online for either side and what they’re up to. This weekend, cooped up with the heating on to avoid the sub-zero wilderness outside, I’ve had plenty of spare time, but with an odd hour here and there in the course of a week the PvE side of things isn’t terribly compelling, and scenarios can only keep me interested so long. I’ll have to see how things go; maybe switching to an alt to play along with a forthcoming wave of Slayers might keep things fresh until the Land of the Dead later on, or maybe I’ll take a break. Just now there’s Murder Night to be getting on with as well, more on that later.