Events occur in real time

The TV series 24 was fresh, bold and different when it first aired; shown in (more or less) real time, there were more plot twists than you could shake a particularly twisty stick at, dramatic revelations all over the place and it wasn’t afraid to break genre conventions by killing off major characters. From the second series on, though, the unexpected twists and broken conventions started to become something of a convention themselves; if a seemingly trusted agent was actually a mole in the first series, next time around if a seemingly trusted agent was acting suspiciously and it looked like they might be a mole it would actually turn out they were a trusted agent working under particularly deep cover to infiltrate an enemy group. Fast forward another few series and a seemingly trusted agent acting suspiciously isn’t a mole they’re just in deep cover, only that in itself is a cover for the fact that they’re working for a second terrorist organisation, except really they’re in even deeper cover for a group of ex-government agents who’ve gone outside the law because highly placed members of the government are in on the conspiracy, except that’s really cover for the fact that they’re a member of a group of ex-ex-government agents who were disillusioned by their abandonment by different members of the government and are out for revenge, and then it turns out they’re not human at all but a robot sent from the future to stop other robots who’ve been sent back from a different future where they were built by the monkeys who took over the world except the monkeys are ghosts and they’re all clones and he’s his own brother.

When the eighth series started in UK recently I watched the first episode, but despite the requisite excitement, chases and exploding helicopters I couldn’t really get into it. I think that’s partly to do with the character of Jack Bauer, who started out as a believably magnificent bastard (within the bounds of “TV ex-Delta Force hero” believability), struggling with his wife and family life but able to saw somebody’s head off with a fish slice when push comes to shove. Since then over the course of seven really tough days he’s been kidnapped, captured, tortured, shot, imprisoned, released, fired, re-hired, disowned, put on trial, fired again, exiled, infected, irradiated, killed and resurrected more times than he’s had hot dinners (which isn’t terribly tricky as I don’t think he’s managed so much as a sandwich, let alone a full dinner, on screen). He’s ascended to the status of cut-n-paste replacement in Chuck Norris facts, and is slightly unreal as a character as a result.

That got me thinking about MMOGs updates and expansions. You get your character up to level 30/40/50 (in DIKU-land), and have progressed from being a rookie barely able to punch out a marmot into a fearsome hero able to take down the biggest monster/villain out there (or at least watch a YouTube video of a bunch of other people doing so), and then an update or expansion is released and it turns out there’s something even bigger out there, and you gain another five or ten levels, and an even bigger set of shoulder pads and sword to hit stuff with. How long can one game be extended that way and still make sense as a coherent world with the character you started out with (in as much as MMOGs ever make sense as coherent worlds)? With games like Everquest still going, and viewing figures of 24 holding up, I guess it’s not a universal worry by any means. In the meantime I’ve had a great idea for a 24/WoW crossover, in which Jack Bauer has to hunt down Arthas before he can assassinate the president, and Warcraft’s Cataclysm is caused by a nuclear device planted by a group of Forsaken militants who are really being controlled by a privately-funded corporation who are actually a front for a shadowy cabal of Alliance politicians…

10 thoughts on “Events occur in real time

  1. Ysharros

    What kind of evil, sick, twisted bastard would punch out a marmot?!


    (PS – you’re right. I agree. All that happy-crappy useful blog comment stuff.)

  2. Zoso Post author

    The KiaSA Legal Team would like to stress that no marmots were harmed in the making of this post, and that the marmot-punch-out scale is a purely hypothetical measure of relative character power wherein a single Olympic Marmot is considered suitably challenging for a starting character, groups of three to five Gray Marmots may represent group content, and a boss encounter would be a pair of Menzbier’s Marmots with shuriken and nunchucks or a Woodchuck. With a gun.

    But remember, please: don’t punch marmots at home.

  3. Robert Schultz

    From the heading, I thought you were going to propose some serious, new ideas as to how an MMO could be.
    One where time continues even when your not playing and you might come back dead or something.
    Or an MMO that resets every 24 hours.
    Or something.

    Anyways, I totally agree with your assessment of the 24 TV show. I watched the first 2 or 3 seasons, but then I just got so bored of having to suspect everyone and then having to see all the ‘situations’ that were forced into each episode in order to keep you watching.

  4. FraidOfTheLight

    “Or an MMO that resets every 24 hours.”

    So whatever you do, nothing changes, and the world carries on as if you’d never existed.

    Oh wait…

    PS: Regarding 24, I only watched the first two seasons, but the features which stood out for me were:

    S1: Bauer’s wife gets kidnapped and raped, then escapes, then loses her memory, then gets killed by a good person who turns out to be a bad person. Now THAT, my friends, is a bad day.

    S2: Bauer’s daughter appears to serve no purpose other than to get into trouble, and then requires her Dad to come and save her (I mean, it’s not like he’s busy saving the world, or anything).

    As mentioned above, somewhere along the line, Bauer saws off some dude’s head, and never gets into trouble for it.


  5. Zoso Post author

    From the heading, I thought you were going to propose some serious, new ideas as to how an MMO could be.

    Huh, I s’pose in hindsight I could’ve spent a bit more time on real-time implications in virtual worlds and a bit less on developing the marmot-punch-out scale.

    S2: Bauer’s daughter appears to serve no purpose other than to get into trouble

    That was a bit of a low point, the Kim-Bauer-as-Doctor-Who-assistant phase. “I’ve… been… captured. Oh, wait, he’s gone, hey! Come back and capture me!”

  6. Eliot

    Any world with a persistent cast is going to experience a slow power creep. It’s inevitable. After all, if Superman saves the city in issue #1, he’s going to have to at least do the same in issue #2, if not better. You can’t go from living together to being just friends again, and you can’t go stopping petty street crime after you’ve been out saving the world.

    Of course, the net result is that you eventually wind up with your characters no longer able to face the threats that would line up with their reasonable power level, and the threats they can face becoming increasingly ludicrous. Vanilla WoW, pre-patch, had your characters acting as an elite military force in areas that were fairly bad; the current expansion has you killing a god and an artificially-created god, as well as slaughtering an entire nation of trolls just to be on the safe side. Cataclysm is set to have you kill another few gods as well. I can only assume the following update will allow you to kill abstract concepts.

  7. Zoso Post author

    Yeah, comic power creep can get interesting when characters like Galactus get involved. It’s something the Doctor Who reboot has suffered from as well, season finales needing to have bigger and bigger consequences like the END of TIME ITSELF! The actual threats in 24 haven’t escalated too ludicrously, but then there’s not that far they can take it after a nuke gets detonated in the second series.

    Cataclysm looked like it could’ve been an opportunity to reign things back slightly, but might just end up with god on god PvP and universe building as the new crafting option…

  8. Eliot

    This is why each Star Trek series resets to point one, why everyone is more interested in reboots of Spiderman than the current Spiderman that’s been running for forty-odd years, and why each installment of Final Fantasy lets you play a new slightly-effeminate young man with a magic sword and an irrelevant goal who will eventually coast along the Yellow Brick Road to saving the world. 24’s overarching villains haven’t ramped up as much, but the amount of awful and random death or injury have continued going up in time, up to where Jack Bauer has attained superhuman no-kill-um status.

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