Monthly Archives: January 2010

A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory

As predicted, the launch of Star Trek Online has been slightly overshadowed in KiaSAville by Mass Effect 2, which has both of us hooked at the moment. The ability to import your original Mass Effect character, once a staple of CRPGs (I remember taking a character from the slightly odd minigame collection Hillsfar into Curse of the Azure Bonds), is unusual these days, and really gave things an added hook at the start. I’d more-or-less forgotten the events of the first game, and didn’t think it would matter too much if I created a new character or imported an old one. I started a new character, as I’d heard that the game would let you make decisions on the key points of the previous game and was interested to see how that would work, but it seems that feature was removed before launch (RPS has a piece on it, including a link to a library of saves should you not be able to find yours, or want to bring in slightly different choices). After a quick run through the starting areas with the new character, I imported my previous character, and it was surprising how quickly it clicked as ‘me’, the character I’d got used to and all the decisions taken. Even early on I’ve bumped into a couple of people outside the main cast of characters who’ve recognised me, people involved in side quests from the original game who I’d forgotten until they wandered up for a chat.

There is something of the “inverse butterfly effect“, naturally; the differences in decisions you may have taken don’t change the major plot points. ‘My’ Shepherd had saved the council, the new one hadn’t, but that just meant a tweak in a line of dialogue from something like:
“After saving the council, they embraced humanity and gave us greater responsibilities”
“In the wave of the destruction of the council, humanity was able to play a greater part in their reformation.”
Even so, the imported character just felt more right than the default starting option.

Couple of other early impressions, I think I might have found my favourite party member from a line in combat when using his fire-based ability, something like: “Ah, flammable! Or, inflammable. Can’t remember which. Not important right now.” Also slightly disappointed that “bonus” suits of armour like the Blood Dragon and Collector’s armour can’t be customised in the same way as your main suit, which you can tweak the colours and pattern of. I was wearing the Blood Dragon armour for a while, and it looks pretty good (they’ve done a good job of making it fit into the setting), but when I sat down at the bar, ordered a drink, and promptly smashed the glass into the visor of the full helmet it did look slightly odd…

Anyway, time to play some more, there’s a galaxy to save!

Put more trust in nobility of character than in an oath.

The latest mini-expansion for Lord of the Rings Online is called Oath of the Rangers and we here at KiaSA were given a quick peek behind the scenes at some of the new dialogue from the latest epic Book content being introduced into the game.

Aragorn: “God damn it, Gimli, if you get your beard in my coney stew one more time, I swear, I’m going to stab you in the ear with the broken end of Narsil!”

Here we see that, when vexed, the Ranger can call upon a wrathful oath to ward off his enemies.

Aragorn: “L2P U Twats!”

Whereas other oaths can be short and to the point, whilst encouraging the Ranger’s companions on to greater feats.

Along with the new raid versions of various skirmishes, which, if balanced anything like the original group versions of the content, will be nigh-on impossible, we look forward to hearing these and many other sworn oaths in Lord of the Rings Online in the coming months.

Beware the fury of an impatient man

I’m quite cross. About DRM. Which makes me even crosser, because I don’t want to be some ranting demagogue who goes around giving 1 star to Spore on Amazon. I’ve briefly outlined my DRM agnosticism before, obviously no DRM scheme is totally effective, but maybe they put a few people off, so long as I can get on and play the game I’ll overlook a few hoops which is all that’s necessary for evil (and/or DRM) to triumph. Well finally I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more.

Ubisoft have a new “Online Services Platform”. It’s an “added value platform“. And you’ll have to be permanently connected to the internet to play any game on it. Not just a bit of a check on startup:

What will happen if I lose my Internet connection when I play the game?
If you lose your Internet connection the game will pause while it tries to reconnect. If the Internet Connection is unable to resume you can continue the game from where you left off or from the last saved game.

Not to mention:

Can I resell my game?
Not at this time.

“Not at this time”? Being the system is only being rolled out in future titles, obviously you can’t resell them “at this time” because you can’t buy them in the first place. Also mysteriously absent from the Q&A list are more pertinent questions, like “You know it’s still going to get cracked in a couple of days, tops, right?” and “Are you fucking kidding?”

You might point out it’s not so different to a MMOG, you have to be connected to a server for those all the time, what’s the big deal? Two things: there’s a *good* reason you’re connecting to a server for a MMOG, like, all those other players, and if there’s a problem with an internet connection that’s the time I’d most like my other, single player games to be available. RPS links to a GameSpy piece that includes the line “While it’s hard to conceive of PC gamers being stranded without an Internet connection, those situations do come up, particularly when traveling.” Well it’s not *that* hard to conceive, is it, you managed an example right there. Tell you what, another example, just off the top of my head y’know, maybe your phone line goes down for a couple of weeks? Too crazy?

The only way this makes sense is if other companies have banded together and written Ubisoft a huge cheque to be sacrificial lambs, deliberate putting out the most blitheringly stupid DRM system they can think of on PC games they don’t give a stuff about so other companies suddenly don’t seem as bad. “Launch day DLC via in-box codes that can be redeemed once, so if you sell the game on the new owner has to shell out if they want that same content? Seems like a little bit of an underhanded way of making the second hand games market less attractive. Still, it’s no Ubisoft.” Any slight foibles Steam might have pale in comparison to a shade so light even Procol Harum are unable to suggest anything whiter, and that’s before it offers Psychonauts for £1.

If the Ubisoft Bloody Stupid Platform offers games for a quid, we can talk, until then I’m officially boycotting anything that includes it. That was going to be a bit of an ironic boycott, as a cursory glance at their upcoming games list didn’t reveal anything I’d been particularly planning to get anyway, but after clicking on a couple of titles to double check R.U.S.E. started actually looking quite interesting. It’d slipped under my radar ’til then, somewhat fittingly for a game about deception and concealment, so I now find myself in the slightly confusing situation of being interested in a game only because I’ve decided to boycott it (assuming it requires the permanent connection). Still, makes the stand vaguely meaningful, I suppose. Ooh, I feel like an activist now, someone get me a placard. “DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING!”

Sound trumpets! Let our bloody colours wave!

A mode of co-operative play that is becoming a standard feature in FPS games these days is one where your group have to fight off wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies. Gears of War 2 has Horde mode, Halo ODST has Firefight.

LotRO’s Skirmishes have a similar sort of feature but it’s not quite what I’m after: it’s a fixed number of waves, and the waves of mobs don’t get progressively more difficult as such, they simply have a random chance to have a lieutenant spawn with each wave, with the final wave spawning a boss mob. I can’t think of a comparable example in any of the other MMOs that I play, let me know if there are any examples that you are aware of.

I think this could be quite a fun mode of play in MMOs. A party of up to five players spawn at a point which they have to defend; increasingly more difficult waves of mobs attack, with short breaks between each major wave allowing the players to regenerate some health and mana (standard potions and food wouldn’t work in this game mode, but there would be potion and food equivalent items placed at strategic locations around the map that players could gather, if they wish to risk leaving the safety of their defended position). A timer begins its count at the start of the game and the longer a group of players manages to stay alive the greater their reward; once all players are dead they are returned to the exit point where a chest with the loot they earned based upon their survival time awaits them.

Thinking in terms of World of Warcraft – in order to avoid the standard AoE-spam tank’n’spank that exists in the game at the moment for most five man dungeons, it might be that the non-elite mobs in a wave can be controlled with taunts and standard aggro generating techniques, but that lieutenants and above are immune to such, they can however, be restrained with various crowd control abilities (this is based upon an idea that tigerears mentioned recently when we were discussing tweaking the existing five-man dungeon content to remove some of the AoE spam, Rohan recently touched on the same idea too).

There are all sorts of other game elements that could be incorporated: turrets that can be used to thin out the waves of mobs as they approach the defended position, for example; objectives around the map that give powerful buffs and other effects, but which require a significant amount of risk and skill in getting to (and back from) them.

Do you have a non-dungeon-crawl mode of game-play that you’d like to see in an MMO?

Experiencing A Significant Gravitas Shortfall

I tried Star Trek Online back before Christmas in closed beta and wasn’t too impressed; the space combat was quite fun, but the ground-based missions were really clunky. It was reminiscent of Auto Assault, where bombing around in be-weaponed cars was excellent but running around towns felt tacked-on and superfluous. When STO hit open beta and there was a certain amount of raving I thought I should take another look, so with broadband finally restored and two week’s bandwidth allowance going spare I grabbed the latest client.

I’m not sure if a strange inverse-nostalgia lowered my expectations to the point that not being physically poked in the eye was a plus, but the open beta seemed far better. Character creation was varied enough before, sticking mostly to the Star Trek “human with a bit of prosthetic work” alien option, and had been lightly buffed to a sheen with further options and a nice array of uniform elements. The only problem is it entirely ignores Star Trek canon and only allows your character to have two ears, and we all know that starship captains actually have three: a left ear, a right ear and a final front ear (sorry!) You get to enter a ship name along with a character name, though I’m not sure the more devoted Trekkie/er/ists would appreciate my Culture-inspired Lack of Gravitas.

The introductory mission was exactly the same tussle with the Borg as back in closed beta, bit of running around inside a starship, flying around shooting stuff, beaming down to a planet, but somehow left me wanting to keep playing instead of logging out after hitting the planet’s surface. Even though I’m not much of a Star Trek fan I could be tempted if there wasn’t much else on the go, but the SSV Normandy from Mass Effect 2 decloaking off the starboard bow I think I’m going to be a bit busy for a while…

KiaSA Leaks.

Our industry insider has once again infiltrated the inner sanctum of an MMO developer and has sent us here at KiaSA Towers the lowdown on some top secret features that will probably never make it into production. This time its from the Cryptic Studios’ Star Trek Online design board:

Shatner’s Girdle: They just couldn’t find a graphics processor powerful enough to hold all those pixels in such a densely compacted space.

Malfunctioning inertial dampening: No matter how hard they tried to coax their physics engine to do it, it simply refused to throw the player characters in the opposite direction to each other and, more importantly, the ship.

Personal inventory: Have you ever seen a Star Trek officer with pockets?

Alternate (sic) dimensions: They couldn’t run the risk of you running into someone from another version of the game where players didn’t have to grind the same tedious missions over and over. Besides, they’d need to have space on the server to store an entire secondary set of your crew with pointy beards. And the female avatars looked really weird with beards.

Replicators: “One of every top tier epic equipment item in the game, please.”

Expanded range of phaser settings:Oven left on at home‘ setting proved to be overpowered.

Tailoring: an early beta included a crafting skill that allowed players to produce cloth items with a machine on ship, but a number of problems prevented it ever working properly resulting in a slew of bug reports demanding the developers “Make it sew!”

Holodeck: This feature was going to allow players to create their own game content that other players could access through their ship’s holodeck. It was all going well, with various mini-games based upon Westerns, Nazi occupied France and fencing, until someone created a mini-game where your ship’s captain played a gamer who was playing STO on his computer. Alas this ripped a hole in the fabric of the space-time continuum here in the real world, and Cryptic had to send a rerouted tachyon pulse through the game’s central database server in order to close that timeline down and set us off on our current timeline. Alas, in this timeline it appears that Tabula Rasa and Vanguard were utter failures, and Richard Garriot and Brad McQuaid are not the happily married benevolent rulers of Earth that they were.

The Computer:

“Run an analysis on this game’s data and make me a good game based on that data that isn’t entirely reliant on fans of the IP.
*beedle* “Estimated time to completion, three minutes, forty two seconds.”
“Send the result to my PC.”

Voice commands: Unfortunately players would just pick the mouse up and start talking into it, before moving on to shouting ‘Hello!’ in various and progressively louder ways. Alas, it was later discovered that Cryptic’s system ONLY… managed… to … pick up on… STRANGELY… intonated SENtences with pauses… IN… all the… wrong places entirely.

Rock Climbing skill: Players complained when the Vulcan science officer kept using crafted rocket boots to beat them to the summit.

Q: The first raid boss of the game was removed after an exploit was found whereupon he could be easily defeated with a simple script if your starship captain was a small bald Yorkshireman pretending to be a Frenchman. Later, after a fix was issued, a trans-dimensional bug caused him to issue players with weird gadgets like a shoe containing a radio transmitter and a watch that turned into a hedgehog.

Boldly: This was removed from the game when testers found that, due to a bug in the language, no players were able to boldly.

A fishing pole is a stick with a hook at one end and a fool on the other.

Take a large sample of generic Skinner Box mentality and place it into a one hundred centilitre beaker filled with a solution consisting of two parts OCD to one part stubbornness and one part high boredom threshold. Boil over a Bunsen flame until evaporation takes place. Distil the resultant condensate through a filter of monotony crystals and then gently reduce the liquid for what seems like an eternity until you slowly feel yourself losing the will to live. What you are left with is the pure undiluted essence of painfully tedious yet strangely compulsive game-play. Or fishing, as we call it in World of Warcraft.

Why I am I levelling fishing? It’s a question I am often found to ponder when I have the time, which is usually, somewhat ironically, while sitting on the Stormwind docks and fishing. Like no other activity in World of Warcraft, fishing is the absolute epitome of tedious, solitary grind for no tangible benefit other than seeing a small number ever so gradually increase to a slightly larger number. Oh it becomes a useful buff and money provider at the end-game, I grant you, but I can only tip my hat to those players who can maintain focus on that leagues-distant finishing line; all I can see is a bobber sitting in the water, not doing very much, as a cast bar counts down in seconds from twenty to some random number which seems to fall below ten seconds far more often than above. Actually the average amount of time it takes to count down from twenty seconds seems to fall somewhere in the six to seven minute range, but that might just be a side effect of time appearing to be dilated. If you’ve seen the film The Black Hole you’ll know the scene where they pass through the titular hole of blackness, and time and space goes, in technical terms, a bit bloody weird. If you haven’t seen that film, then think of the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey after Dr. David Bowman approaches the Jupiter monolith. And if you haven’t seen either of those two films, shame on you, but hopefully you’ll be able to think of the scene in Barbarella where Jane Fonda gets naked and does rude things to herself; it won’t help with this example of time dilation at all, but it’s Jane Fonda, naked, and doing rude things to herself. Mmmmmm.

Where was I? Oh yes, masturbation. No, wait! Fishing. The eyes dilate and you drop out of time and space as the bobber sits there not doing much, and the cast bar sits there counting down and, every so often, counting back up a little bit, or so it seems. And you sit there not doing much, and you think to yourself “my God, I’ve been here for an age of man, if I look outside the window what wonders will I see? I imagine flying cars will be passing up and down the street. No! It’s been longer than that; they’ll have advanced so far that they will have flying cars that move along the ground. And people will wear strange outfits, and they’ll look like curiosities to my eyes.” And you dare to sneak a look out of the window, and sure enough you see that it’s all true, the amazing flying ground cars, and the young people wearing stupid impractical clothes.

And then the bobber dips and makes a splash, and you miss it and don’t get the catch.

Somewhere in a distant neighbourhood a young person in stupid clothes pauses in terror in the middle of the street upon hearing what they imagine can only be the screams of a murder victim suffering death by cheese grater.

That’s the worst bit, isn’t it? It’s a battle of wills: you watch and watch and watch the bobber, and it sits there all puffed-up and stubborn in its self importance “Nope. No. Not going to dip. I won’t. I refuse. Sorry old boy, you might as well go and do something else, I’m quite adamant that I shalln’t be dipping under the water today. Come back again tomorrow won’t you?” And as you continue to watch it your eyes begin to dry out slightly, but you daren’t blink. You think “I will not be beaten by you, Bobber. I will not fall for your petty tricks of the mind. I am the player here, not thee. The line flows from me to you, not the other way around. Or does it? A line can go both ways. And none. Did I cast you into the water, or did you cast me out onto the land? Am I the bait that you use to catch others?” and as you rock slowly back and forth, your partner walks past the computer and asks if you’re ok, because you’re muttering to yourself again, and you turn and smile and answer in a slightly absent, lobotomised sort of voice that everything is fine, at which point the bobber dips and you miss it. And then you spend the rest of the evening trying to avoid lengthy and painful divorce proceedings by convincing your partner that your guttural screams weren’t directed at them. Well, not entirely at least.

And yet there is some truth in the madness that the bobber casts the player: sit in any populated area and start fishing and sure enough, every time, a player will run past you, stop, turn around, and then sidle up next to you and themselves start fishing – caught line and sinker by you, your bobber’s bait. They grin at you knowingly in a ‘look at us two, here, enjoying this ancient art; isn’t life grand?’ sort of way, and they radiate peace and happiness and well being. They never last, of course. They are not dedicated to defeating Bobber, the greatest boss mob that World of Warcraft has ever known. You see them all jolly and happy “well that fishing looks like a lark, I’ll try that too”, and they whip out their rod and cast away, but you see the change almost instantly: they stand still, holding their line, but the smile on their face is now drawn tight and the corner of their mouth starts to twitch slightly. By the second or third catch sweat has formed on their brow. By the fourth or fifth catch you can see them visibly wilting, the rod is held limply in their hands as if it lifted a terrible weight, as if it were trying to draw up the whole world on its hook. Then their eyes start to glance to the side to see how you’re doing; that’s when they see your crouched and haggard form, shoulders hunched forward and arms drawn in rigidly at your side, elbows locked in tight, a look of grim determination on your face, a maniacal smile showing through the gritted teeth of a locked jaw. Your bloodshot eyes flick towards them and in that instant they see through the portals of your soul into the very depths of Hell itself. Which is usually the point at which they look at their watch and slowly back away, with “Oh my look at the time”s and “I really must be somewhere… else”s. You look after them as they run away into the distance and you are bolstered by the fact that yet another passer-by has fallen lightly to Bobber, and you take delight in watching them dash hurriedly away, bumping into a passing merchant and crashing head over foot, like a ragdoll in a tumble dryer, around the next corner and out of sight. At which point your bobber quickly dips and you miss it.

Raid-based fishing. That’s all I’m saying. Someone tanks the bobber, a bunch of others to try to distract it with a various assortment of confused and increasingly frantic crowd control and DPS strategies, and approximately seven hundred healers stand by in order to heal the resulting fatigue and wounds. After several nights of wipes, the tank’s fishing skill finally ticks over from 123 to 124 and Vent. explodes with cheers of rapture and joy.

And yet players will level fishing. I level fishing. I do it knowing full well that I probably won’t use it in anger at the end game, what with not being a raider and thus not really needing any of the benefits of buff that it provides. Sure you can earn some money from it, but I can earn money in other ways, ways that aren’t, you know — fishing. It’s an activity that is both tediously uninvolving and yet requires your absolute attention: try to start a conversation with a friend in guild chat and the moment you’re half way through a sentence the bobber will dip. Or you wait for the bobber to dip before responding, and your friend logs off assuming that you’ve gone line dead or that you’ve put them on ignore. You can listen to a podcast while you fish, but later when you try to remember anything that was said in the show, all you can think is that they talked an awful lot about fish, and how they wished that bobbers would bastard-well dip more often. Which is a bit strange for a podcast about beard husbandry. Which has to be pretty blarmed strange, considering it was a podcast about beard husbandry in the first instance.

Ok, that isn’t a real podcast. But admit it, you’re intrigued. Maybe I should start one. Beardcast: Making the most of your whiskers and fuzz. Why does that sound as though it would be rated as adult content on iTunes?


I think fishing is possibly the epitome of Bad Crafting in MMOs: it has token interaction, and yet that interaction requires you to be focussed primarily on the task at hand; other crafting options may be dull and pointless grinds, creating items that you sell to the nearest vendor for less than the cost of the materials harvested to make them, but at least you can set a batch of them running and go and do something else in the meantime. Other crafting skills are cooking by microwave – set your time, hit ‘start’, put your feet up in front of the telly and wait for the result, whereas fishing is cooking on the stove (“fishing is cooking on the stove”? You’ve hit a new low, Melmoth) – constant attention is needed, albeit in only short bursts, to stir something or add in a teaspoon of something else. Except that the results are inverted, because when cooking on the stove you are rewarded with a superior meal to the microwaved one for your efforts (unless you can’t cook, but let’s not shag this analogy up any more than it already is, eh?), whereas in fishing you are rewarded with a significantly inferior skill gain compared to the person who just fired-off their crafting run and forgot about it. Yes there is the gathering to consider for the other professions but, while levelling at least, this goes hand-in-hand with adventuring and doesn’t encroach prohibitively on the player’s time.

Yet if fishing is a pointless lesson in the frustrations of character building, why do my characters feel empty and incomplete unless they have this skill maxed-out?

While writing this post Melmoth missed the bobber an unprecedented twenty seven times.

Bobber went on to take a leading role in a very boring West End adaptation of a Henrik Ibsen play.

How big is massive?

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that size isn’t important, it’s what you do with it. That’s all well and good, but if you want to be called massive there has to be some size requirement, right? Currently looking to measure up are Star Trek Online and Global Agenda, and both have a fair number of detractors looking at their tape measures and shaking their heads.

In Global Agenda, individual fights of 10 vs 10 obviously aren’t particularly massive, any number of online shooters can support similar or greater numbers on one map, but Massively, true to name, suggest how it does live up to the tag. Star Trek, like Champions before it, features heavy instancing, so while the overall player base may be massive you share your bit of space (or starship bridge, or planet) with a much smaller number that some people don’t feel is particularly massive, especially when Eve whops its 54,446 on the table next to it. Jon “Not Van Hemlock” Shute points out that it’s not so far off the multiplayer experience that consoles have been offering since XBox Live really took off.

Though much of the debate is around the “massive” aspect being lacking, I wonder if perhaps the “G” of MMOG is as much, if not more, of an issue. To quote myself (bad form and all that) from a few years back:

“Very loosely, by “game”, I mean something with fixed rules and objectives, and by “world” an environment in which you’re free to do as you wish. They’re more vague labels on a spectrum than concrete concepts.”

“Game” and “world” might not be the best terms, having different meanings to different people; you might prefer “theme park” and “sandbox”, but it’s not as if they’re rigidly defined universal terms either, GTAIV or Saints Row 2 are widely referred to as part of a sandbox genre, but pull up the city map of Saints Row 2 and it’s studded with activities and diversions, effectively theme park rides. There’s always “emotive term designed to make my preferred setting seem the only valid choice” and “emotive term designed to make my non-preferred setting seem foolish and pointless”, but that probably wouldn’t help matters; I tried using “splong” and “thrunk” for a while, but got banned from a couple of forums when trying to explain that I loved the developer’s splong but they really needed to get thrunking to increase the player base, so “game” and “world” it is (you could always do a find and replace with something else if you’ve got a fundamental objection to the terms).

Both these things are vital components of an MMOG: with no “game” then we’re in Second Life/Virtual World territory, though of course there’s heavy overlap, blurring at the edges and whole other debates over exact classifications there. The “world” is, to me, what makes MMOGs massive, massive in scope as well as in total number of players. One tends to come at the expense of the other, though; if there’s a castle somewhere with an evil overlord, at the “game” end of the spectrum you might get specifically sent to kill him, and you’d get your own instance of the castle to do that in. Moving more towards a “world” there might only be one castle, with an overlord who spawns on an hourly basis after he’s killed; further still, adding persistent elements, you might just happen across the castle while exploring, nobody would send you there, and once you kill the overlord he stays dead, it’s your castle now (at least until someone, or something, comes to try and take it from you).

Many players seem to move towards “game”-type elements, particularly instancing, when given an alternative as Melmoth’s Thought for the day picked up with the popularity of WoW’s cross-server LFD tool and LotRO’s skirmishes. Just about every WoW blogger I read gives the thumbs up to the LFD tool, and with a bit of mischievous exaggeration (or blatantly trollish flamebaiting) it’s not too hard to picture WoW’s cities as a lobby where the players wait to head off on their small group adventures. As a slightly earlier example, City of Heroes featured Hazard Zones, large city areas designed (I believe) for teams with no particular goal or quest to roam through, defeating whatever mobs were around; very few did, though, compared to the number of players running instanced missions, so hazard zones as such generally faded away, were redesigned, and didn’t appear in City of Villains. I’m certainly at the “game”ish end of things, I do like the grand stage that you don’t get with a single player game, but I want to get on and be doing stuff. I really don’t mind the model of Champions and Star Trek; a seamless world would be great, but if things have to be split up then I prefer the many instances approach to having fixed, separate servers, as for one thing it makes it easier to get together with many groups of people (like real life friends, comrades from previous game guilds and people who find you via the blog, who sod’s law will dictate are all on different servers, factions or indeed continents if they can be). Randomessa from Casual Is As Casual Does is similarly untroubled, and has an interesting theory about MUDding origins; I never MUDded myself, but I did start with the instance-heavy City of Heroes instead of Ultimate Online or Everquest, so perhaps it does have something to do with formative gaming.

The further you go towards the “world” end of the spectrum, the harder I think it is to get right for both developer and players. Player numbers and density are vital when they’re driving the action, obviously you need a critical mass to get things going but communities can be difficult things to scale, and with hardware capability being finite then too many players in a small area cause issues as seen, for example, in EVE; even if the hardware can support it, if combat is of a scale where an individual’s contributions are hard to measure it can be much less satisfying and lead to much grousing about “zergs”. Players need their own motivation, and a greater time commitment as the player has to fit in with the world as opposed to a game that’s fitted to the player. There’s obviously an appetite out there, Saylah at Mystic Worlds has a great post that starts “When I think MMO, I think of an open minimally instanced virtual world where players co-exist with infinite opportunities to interact with each other while carrying out game objectives.” The cupboard isn’t completely bare; EVE Online is the poster child for worldly games, Darkfall has similar aims for the fantasy genre but started out a bit focused on the unrelenting combat side of things to be really rounded (according to an EVE economic newsletter 70% of players are located in hisec space; mind you, starting out with a lawless frontier and gradually adding commerce and security has a bit of an Old West feel to it and could work, as opposed to starting with traders and turning a Mongol horde on them), Wurm Online and A Tale In The Desert both sound interesting, if not quite my cup of tea. There’s not so much in the way of AAA titles, though.

Rather than taking games for what they are, though, some people (most frequently found in the comment sections of news sites) get fixated on numbers. “Massive” means whatever number they’ve got in their head (100, 500, 1000, ONE! MEEEEEELEON!, take your pick), and if you can’t see that many people on the screen then the developers are morons who should be prosecuted for obtaining money under false pretences for calling their game an MMOG. What does it matter if you’re sharing a bit of space with 50, 500 or 5000 if you’re not meaningfully engaged with them? Van Hemlock’s Pioneer’s Tale is a beautiful eulogy to Backwater, a home carved out on an unloved planet on a new Star Wars Galaxies server, with a population in its most utopian stage of around 25. Size isn’t everything…

Thought for the day.

“Now, there is a law written in the darkest of the Books of Life, and it is this: If you look at a thing nine hundred and ninety-nine times, you are perfectly safe; if you look at it the thousandth time, you are in frightful danger of seeing it for the first time.” — Gilbert K. Chesterton – The Napoleon of Notting Hill.

If there’s one genre of gaming out there that requires us to look at things a thousand times or more during the course of play, it is the MMO genre.

Is it really any wonder that there are so many players writing about it, attempting to dissect it, and trying to convey to others what they’ve seen from behind the veil?