Wednesday, January 24, 2007

[placeholder] Game design (as): The learning curriculum

Stewing on this today. Reference point or thought trail: As I look at the GDC 2007 offerings I am drawn to the design sessions because I see them as learning curricula issues, to help the player "get" the game (to get the concepts and be able to engage successfully). This reminds me of a favorite section of Wenger:
This leads us to distinguish between a learning curriculum and a teaching curriculum. A learning curriculum consists of situated opportunities (thus including exemplars of various sorts often thought of as "goals") for the improvisational development of new practice (Lave, 1989). A learning curriculum is a field of learning resources in everyday practice viewed from the perspective of learners. A teaching curriculum, by contrast, is constructed for the instruction of newcomers. (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 97)

Still pondering. MOre to come.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Yeah, like he said...

I'm so stoked, Malaby agreed that I had interpretted his meaning correctly and that it applied to my analysis, and furthermore that he had had the same analysis described in a post from last October. So, I checked it out. Here's the section he wrote that is exactly the point I was trying to make as well, his is considerably more intelligently laid out:
So what is it that makes games powerful generators of social solidarity, and what is it about WoW that complicates that? It is probably not a surprise to hear me move to the contingencies that games generate for the answer. Apologies to Dmitri and Constance, but I think we can do better than pointing to categories like "third spaces.” We can, I think, begin to get at what is intrinsic to game experience and the generation there of trust and belonging. Here's my assertion: the shared and intimate experience of (complex) contingency is a powerful source of belonging and trust. My ideal type for this kind of shared experience is the small-scale, tactically driven, and “real time” mutual coordination demanded of a group that is gaming together. The size here is important; the group must be small enough not to trade off tactical improvisation for strategic organization. Each plyer must coordinate his or her actions with others, and they must do it not simply in a reflective, leisurely fashion, but on the fly, in an embodied and urgent manner; the goal is to be able to act and react as a group, ready to face any new contingency that presents itself.

Ding! [A Good Day]

I had set a goal to get my first two levels in TBC by the end of the first week. I accomplished that goal late yesterday with Hall'. Before that I got the true pleasure of running Twink through what I have heard described as 'The Long Chain” which ends [I believe] with the quest to enter the first instance, but includes all the bombing runs. Before that, I got to run with Nemi and Cy and Bany for a bit.

The first time I ran 'The Long Chain' it was alone. I had no idea where things were on the map and still had a leveled mindset . . . meaning that you instinctively run from anything a level higher than you. The second time I ran it was with Hall' and it was hard to remember where I gone or exactly what I had done. Apparently, the first time my brain was shocked and awed at the experience. The third time I ran it was with Twink and I felt as comfortable as if I were walking him through Deadmines. And thus Hell' [Hellfire Peninsula] becomes home.

Yet, it wasn't a question of just the first time. I ran Hall' to get a number of quests and then we went on a tour of three flight paths. I had no such issue with memory this time. I knew where everything was even being only the second time I had tramped this virtual ground. By the time I had reached the second land, I had had already gathered and guessed at all the game would give . . . now it is just the grind.

Yet, for one glorious day . . . it was all new again.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

OMG Check this out!

Fresh off the Terra Nova blog (well, it was fresh when I picked it):
[NOTE: click on title of entry for direct link]

A New Backbone for Our Metaverse(s)?
Lisa Galarneau

This just in via CNET...

The International Association of Virtual Reality Technologies (IAVRT) has just announced plans for the Neuronet, an initiative that "will evolve into the world's first public network capable of meeting the data transmission requirements of emerging cinematic and immersive virtual-reality technologies".


"Today, the best and the brightest innovators in the world are pushing the boundaries of virtual reality and gaming. Virtual worlds such as Second Life, The Sims, Everquest, and World of Warcraft continue to attract legions of followers while new game systems from Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft offer near life-like character renditions. In business, companies like IBM and Sun Microsystems are investing heavily in virtual reality business applications. These VR trailblazers, and many others, have been limited by the confines of the Internet. The Neuronet's communication bandwidth and real-time VR and gaming data transfer protocols will enable them to reach their full potential."

Have they really been limited? I'm not so sure. But certainly thinking about fancy infrastructure for the MMOs that might exist from 2009 onwards (the date this will be ready for 'consumer applications') must be a good idea, right?

Domain names - .vr (for 'immersive virtual reality neurosites') and .cin (for 'cinematic virtual reality neurosites') - will be available next year...

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Leadership Reconsidered in the Outlands [Expansion] – Via's Version

When Hall' and I emerged into baby Dwarfland the land [game] was known by many millions before us. We made friends and later guildsmen [guildspersons?] who guided us . . . mentored us. Later, we were able to pass the lore onto others, but we were just conduits mostly.

When I run someone through Deadmines and we get to the Goblin room, I always tell the n00bs to stay close to the wall. Why? Cause that is what I was told . . . now, more tradition to me then real tactics. Many things I convey to those I mentor come directly from those who mentored me. My 'leadership' in an instance is cobbled together from the expertise and experience of others . . . and sometimes with a yawn.

When I do a Mara run, I have a 'leadership' I have developed more or less independently of mentors, but it is also an instance I am 10 levels above. The leadership there is really management. It is my Disneyland's Jungle Cruise. No matter how dangerous it might seem, I know there will be another tour in 28 minutes.

Standing just inside the instance yesterday, I first had to overcome my natural and native fear of facing 3 Level 61 Elites . . . to start! Second, I had to face an instance that none of the five of us knew, but the difference was . . . we knew each other.

Now, what Hall' doesn't mention is this was a run with no less then 20 wipes. We payed for every inch . . and every piece of knowledge we all left with . . . along with [except for poor Nemi] the upgraded gear each of us were rewarded . . with death after death after death.

Standing before the first boss [Big guy with two buddies] . . . we hit him as hard as we could. We wiped. We came back and wiped again. It was about this time that someone [Nemi or Hall] noticed that the buddies were healing the boss. So, for the third approach we hit the buddies . . . and boy-howdy did they fall fast . .. and then we kicked the bosses ass. And then the screams of joy ripped through everyone's speakers on Vent.

What I remember most from that boss was everyone contributed something. Let's try this. Let's try that. Let's go back to that. No recriminations. No accusations. I know I made mistakes. I saw other's make mistakes. Yet, it was the joy of making them and overcoming them in an environment that was truly supportive that I remember most.

After that boss, things changed. Hall' started pouring through the combat logs between wipes and there was the swapping of advice and opinion, but there was little discussion during the pre-battle. Nemi took point. Cela laid her trap. Via [Hey, that's me!] stood ready to charge and Hall and Bany took up ranged positions. During the battles there was no more Vent chatter. The group had fallen silent, but the mobs fell faster and with more frequency.

There was no leader, but there was leadership. Leadership by the community . . . or committee can go two ways . . . none of are as dumb as all of us or none of us are as smart as all of us. The knowledge and confidence we had in one another allowed it to be the second for us.

Leadership Reconsidered in the Outlands (Expansion): For Eric, mostly

I've been in the Outlands (expansion TBC) about a day now. I'm as disoriented and giddy as my first days in WoW, which is nice to feel again, frankly. Yeah, Saami cried a bit as she handed over her Blue Dragonscale chest and pants to a vendor for gold, and then donned the GREEN DROPS that gave her a +200 armor boost even before the rugged armor kits went on. =sigh= Molten what? But this post isn't about how GREENS are the new BLUE.

Yesterday evening Via, Nemi, Cela, Bany, and Hallgrima did my our first five-man instance in Ramparts. I think two of the five were level 61s, the rest 60s. No one had gone very far into this instance before. Cela had a bit of experience, but not much. It was a lot of fun and it took us a torturous three hours to reach the end boss in what is basically the Deadmines of the new world, and we didn't get the last guy. I think we're going back today. I'm going to grind to 61 before then I hope.

But, as I pondered over coffee this morning, I found myself pondering two things. One was how much fun it was, fun of a sort that had become less comon for me in the old game. The other was how the instance was different from other old game instance experiences, both five man Strath runs and forty-man Molten Core runs. It is this latter I wish to comment on, although I think it is largely also the main elment underlying the first observation.

Here's the bottom line on my thinking; I'll cut to the chase. In the old game, I usually played on a team with a large proportion of people who knew the instance. The person running the raid or instance group, the "leader," was either good or bad, but very knowledgeable about terrain and mobs. The "bad" leader just didn't manage the run well: didn't wait for mana replenishment, didn't communicate expectations or plans, didn't know how other player classes play and so couldn't offer advice to folks new to the instance, etc. Most of the instances and raids had very, very, routine approaches to the task. It didn't matter who the leader was, everyone with experience in the instance/raid knew that, e.g., at Baron we stand in a semi-circle of subgroups. So as a result, the same knowledge routines can become, did become, a bit stifling and well, boring.

Yesterday we didn't know what lay ahead. We didn't know the types of mobs, where they all were, what would likely pull what. As a result, we started out with some wipes. But, we went to school on them. We stopped and discussed. I, for one, scrolled the combat log (some good intell there). Almost all of us have several high level toons and thus know other player classes and could PROBLEM-SOLVE in the instance AS A GROUP. I could remind the hunter that the hunter radar lets know what's ahead, but then also realized I could use eye of Kilrogg to see the layout. We found out the dogs were couldn't be enslaved and for some reason quickly sniffed out our stealthed rogue, but with the final boss, Hallgrima realized she could enslave one felhound to set it upon the other (actually turned out to make a huge difference). The fun of the instance was kicking around some ideas and then trying 'em out; regrouping, tweaking, and trying again. By god that was fun!

Now what Via will want me to add, and what I want to also ponder here, is that at the end, though we didn't get the last boss, we all felt great. Someone said, "This was a great run," and I said to the group, on vent, "Now THAT was a guild run!" There were many amens. Yes, there was a tangible difference in the problem solving and general vibe because we were all friends, core members of the same guild, and to my point, together we knew more than anyone knew separately and we were all okay with that. So even when Cela had to step out and Cyrinic stepped in in her place, it was still warm and friendly, still problem solving and discussing, still fun.

This morning I started to think about leadership again. Was there a leader in the guild run I've just described. Well up to the point where her knowledge ran out, Cela was all business. And it was okay, but I was chaffing a little at being so firmly directed. But once her instance-specific leverage disappeared, there was no single leader. It was very collegial. Everyone looked after each other and everyone was able to put his/her ideas on the table for discussion and legitimate consideration. It was closer to the sort of leadership I expect to see in a CoP approach to leadership than in a classic biz. school notion of leadership.

There's a lot here I'm still thinking about, but this was group co-construction of knowledge, knowledge sharing, and shared leadership. How can we, and can we, keep it that way if it relies a lot on the fact that we lacked sufficient knowledge to accomplish that task under one person's expertise? On the 10th run will the magic be gone?

This is, of course, the driving anxiety of MMO game devs. Players consume content and if the unknown is the fun, the consumption of content is the fun drain. Random thought at the end... back to the Outland for some real FUN.


I'm experiencing the same sort of fun in the bloodelf (hereafter, blelf) and draenei noobie lands. New content, new quests, new toon talents. The unknown. Not quite as much fun yet cause I'm not in a party most of the time, and cause quests really don't need much group support at the early stages. But fun, nonetheless...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Persistence and the relationship between stuff and place

Well, persistence is what I'll need to embody in order to make sure I catch up to the postings here, and do my share. I'm not a natural poster in the blogosphere; I find that I don't feel comfortable hanging developing thoughts out there all naked, I want them to be at least partially clothed. But, here goes, some naked thoughts, and I promise to post at least weekly. (If you are interested in a larger more abstract context for these thoughts, take a look at the last three posts in my Learning Reflections blog to be read in this order:
“Learning and Design of Virtual Worlds”
“Sense of Presence in Virtual Worlds”
“Sense of Place and Space”)

I've been wondering about the importance of persistence in making virtual worlds compelling learning environments. In this sense, I mean persistence of place (there are places that are always there, that I can navigate to, with the same look and feel) and in these persistent places or associated with them are persistent containers for stuff (I have a way to store my stuff for my own access later, and for sharing with others over time), and the relationship between place and stuff (I can go on a quest to a particular location and get some stuff that I want, I can leave stuff at a place for others).

The other object of my curiosity is the power to create or change stuff - how important is it to creating a compelling experience? How much energy should designers/virtual world creators put into creation of content, or is it better that content be generated for the most part by the virtual world's inhabitants? These of course are the two models for content generation: the first is the WoW model, and the second is the Second Life model.

There seems to me to be a connection between these two groups of questions: persistence of place, and the creation of content, and that this connection relates in turn to the relative importance of a sense of place and space as described in my Learning Reflections postings.

Of course, the more technical term for stuff is artifacts (for activity and shared practice). Watcha think?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

James is a bad leader and I don't want to be like him

So, anatomy of a bad Mara run . . .

First, guildie asks if I will go. I know this guildie [a 48 druid] and I know better, but . . . hey . . . it's Mara and I the Master of Mara. He PUGs two . . . a 50 priest and a 46 warrior. I won't run Mara without a good priest . . . and prefer a second warrior. When it comes to Druids . . . I seldom have any use.

First thing that happens is I say 'wait' and they charge ahead . . . pulling not only the mob, but the pat. While I'm trying to sort out aggro and keep folks alive a three headed pat eats our priest from behind. After that . . . it is me another warrior and a cat fighting three crocs, a hydra and what seems like a dozen stone figures. A minute or two later . . . I'm the only one left standing.

I get naked [as is my custom] and kill myself. I'm the only one with the rod to port directly into the middle of Mara so I have to leave. Besides, I have to show them the way to the purple gate and back to the port.

Back at the purple gate, I tell them to follow and don't worry about mobs. I'll aggro and we'll just run to the pad. They of course stop and fight everything. If I were Twink I'd have given a lecture right there, but I'm not. I prefer leadership by the example of the death of others.

Anyway, back in Mara once more. I explain about pats . . . as I had before, but this time I type slower. They listen and learn better. We make it through three mobs and are now facing the first pat since our wipe. I pick the spot and pull . . . and we do a great jorb.

BUT . . .

Pats reset in instances and we had been out so long one had spawned behind us. So, now we're standing in the middle of two stone pats. It is hard to see through the dust, but damn we have a good priest . . . a great healer. And damn, we have a good warrior [not me . . . that goes without saying] and . . . well . . . we have a druid too.

We fight our way through and when we get done I give all compliments. The healer gives them back saying most bitch about her style of healing . . . that she doesn't even start until folks are below fifty.

I tell her what Twink taught me . . . better all alive at 1% then 1 alive at 100%. She knows her stuff and I know that, because I've run with a damned good priest often. I have learned to totally love the priest class . . . as a companion to a warrior.

We take everything out to the first boss with precision. Then our druid . . our leader . . . the one who formed the group . . . well . .. bails.

So, it two warriors and a priest, but I'm the only one above 50 and I know Mara . . . and we don't have the muscle. I ask if they want to try and they say they want to try . . . so, try we will. So, I start thinking . . . not something I really have to do much of . . . or I have to, but I don't. I drop the two-hander for the axe and board.

I start giving VERY clear orders. And we hit the first mob that I know we cannot take . . . and we take'em. We hit the second mob I know we cannot take . . . and we take'em. Four more times and we are standing at the edge of the bitch . . . sorry, the princess.

By this point, I have so much confidence in these toons. They fight above their level. They know their class. They have come through hell to stand here . . . and want more.

We hit her and it is all working. It is a long and arduous battle . . . and she is getting ready to go down. We've been feared several times. We've had to race to save the priest several times. We've had to give up aggro back and forth trying to stay alive . . . and she is going down . . .

Then I fall and am shocked. I didn't drop my pot. I didn't eat my root. I was so busy watching them, I didn't watch myself . . . and in that, I let them down. I, as the leader, had not led properly in the end because I didn't use resources that were available to me.

So close . . .

And away we . . . eventually . . . go

At some point today, I will venture out to try and find my copy of TBC . . . and will install it. Yet, I am holding to step through the gate for Twink, which I assume will be a similar experience as when he stood beside me when I got my 60 . . . he DCed.

My return to WOW has been odd after my venture off to Vanguard. The game looks and feels different and I'm even more bored then I was before I left. I went off to Winterspring and did a bit of grinding for rep. Took an hour and change and allowed me to get Neutral with them and turn in about 10g worth of quests.

I've spent some times trying to find out if I should re-config'. I am not sure if I should try to spec PVE or Tank . . . suppose it will depend on what we find on the other side, but with structure of the new instances, it seems a tough call. Do I PVE for the quests or do I Tank for the instances and new gear?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Auction against System

Recently, Korean World of Warcraft(WOW) players introduced a very interesting spontaneous auction system that circumvents the logic of the game design.

As you already know, there are a lot of restrictions on equipping items in WOW. Attribution of items to a specific player makes the usage of WOW Gold narrow. So, it is one of characteristics in game systems that lessen RMT in the game. But, is this invincible? So-called "Gold party" named by Korean WOW players is rising as a means to bypass this restriction. The "Gold party" is unique contractual raid team organizing for in-game non-official item auctioning on the spot.

When a team finishes the boss and an extremely valuable item comes out, the auction would start. The auctioneer is the head of raid team. The process is almost same to the ordinary auction. The highest bidder gets the item auctioned after paying his Golds to the auctioneer. After this, the head should divide revenue among participants of raid except winner of the bid. If there be no item that any participant want to bid, only division of resource earned is implemented without auctioning as usual. If a player want to get specific items in this "Gold party", he should have enough money to bid. An article(Korean language) in a Korean game journal reported that a weapon was won at 9,000 WOW gold in a "Gold party." The price amounts to about 270,000 KRW(1,000 KRW=1 USD).

If you have enough Golds ready to bid, now you get more probability to equip better items. So, there is a possibility to revive RMT restricted by game system. According to a longtime WOW player, "Gold party" is a kind of side effects resulted from the wide spread of raid play. So to speak, some raids turn easy enough to finish with some 'customers/bidders' accompanying. These raids are often called 'picnic' among Korean players. It's a sort of contractual breeding system with incentives that sprung up spontaneously.

I've looked into the trend of transactions on WOW Gold at Itembay. As details cannot be investigated, it is obvious that the volume of trade is increasing. The WOW's ranking of trade volume at Itembay during last 3 months is #7, but that during last 1 month is #5. There seems to be no significant impact of "Gold party" on the RMT price yet. the price has been fairly stable for last 3 months. It is too weak metrics to judge the effect of this spontaneous in-game trading practices. Anyway, "Gold party" is one of intriguing behaviors that are to be observed only in MMORPG.

Koreans breaking the chains of WoW economy

It seems that Korean players have invented a custom auction system that could greatly increase the importance of the in game currency in World of Warcraft. Blizzard has been very successful in limiting the usage of gold by making best equipment in the game "Bind on Pickup" which means that an item can't change hands after it's been picked up by a player. Usually these items are dropped by monsters which require a large party of players to kill them. The new Korean auction system enables players of a party that killed a monster to bid on an valuable item right on the spot before anyone picks it up. Winning bid takes the item and the money is split between the rest of the party.

The interesting thing about all of this is how the Blizzard restriced economy in World of Warcraft is igniting a whole new breed of professional or semi-professional online RPG players. These guys aren't be like the typical chinese gold farmers who work alone, killing certain type of a monster 12 hours a day. Insteads, they need to be a skilled group of players who play well together and have no problem clearing the most difficult parts of the game even with a few paying "tourists" onboard. Also, it's worth a mention that these tourists often have to buy gold to pay off the professionals who in turn sell the gold to RMT companies for real world cash. This makes WoW gold merely an intermediate for real world money which is definitely what Blizzard does not want to happen.w

Burning Crusade: WoW or WTF?

I remember the first time I entered the capital city of Stormwind in World of Warcraft. As I reveled in the accomplishment, I realized how large this world really was.

In time I learned how deep the game experience is, above and beyond your typical MMO fare, given the added elements of trade through the auction house and increased human interaction through guild affiliations.

Here I sit today with four characters all ready to move on to the next hamster leveling treadmill when the Burning Crusade (BC) hits the shelves tomorrow on January 16, and I can’t help but think about what ramifications this new expansion is going to have on the in-game culture, and in particular, the economy of the game as it moves forward.

. . .

WoW: Burning Crusade launches tonight

The Draenei will be unreleased, the Outlands shall be explored, millions of people will log on to experience Blizzard's World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade expansion -- and the servers maintaining Azeroth will, more than likely, crash. If history teaches us nothing else, it's that whenever WoW receives an upgrade of any form, Murphy's Law is hiding just around the corner. Besides the Burning Crusade launch itself, Gamestop is having special midnight events and a Blizzard game designer spoke about the idea of porting the game to consoles.

As previously reported, Gamestop will be holding midnight launch events at many of their stores this evening. Some will have special contests going on and it's best to call your local Gamestop or EB Games to find out if they have anything special planned.

British website Pro-G has an interview with Blizzard game designer Jonathan LeCraft where he speaks about porting the game to consoles. LeCraft says, "You really do need a keyboard to play WoW ... I've seen some mods where people have hooked up WoW to their Wii. When I saw that I was like, well, that's got to be pretty easy to PVP against, honestly. It's not something we're looking at right now." LeCraft goes on to say that due to the money WoW is bringing in we can expect to see another MMO from the studio. We're expecting some kind of major announcement from Blizzard at, or a little before, Min-E3.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Communication Tools . . . smoke signals and telepathy

“Ah James, I could not disagree with you more.”

What exactly are you disagreeing with?

“The game can't make the community communicate to the community.”

I would not argue that point with you [how is that for a non-confrontational non-committal agreement?]. I am arguing that the tools are inferior and in all honesty primitive that are provided.

“It can create the need for that to happen.”

Agree here that it makes the need. Moving from “ELITE” to “GROUP” is a good idea. From quests to instances, it is about balance. As a warrior, I know the value of a priest [and a mage]. As I said in my last instance run, “A priest is a warrior’s bets friend” to be responded to with, “And a warrior is a priest best friend”.

“So if you don't or can't or wont' get thee to a guild, or you're in a guild that doesn't help, you've got the LFG panel and general callouts in chat for PUGs.”

While I don’t disagree, but this is problematic. I’ve run enough PUG runs to know that not knowing the reputation of those you run with can be deadly . . . repeatedly.

“There are ways here to communicate with others.”

That does NOT mean they are effective or efficient ways to communicate. That is my point at the moment. The tools are the like the monkey’s with the bones near the monolith.

“I'm not comfy with partnering up wth strangers. Hence my choice to go with a guild. “

And why is that? It is cause there is no real indication of reputation in the game. It is the missing element. eBay has it. Amazon has it. WOW does not except in the MOST informal ways.

“Your take on my aggro example offers me a great chance to explain what I don't want, adn to underline the difference between emergent organic culture and something like school culture. “

For the record, I I would not implmement an agro circle . . . agree with your assessment. I merely discussed the game COULD contribute this knowledge to us. The information is there . . . doesn’t mean it adds to the gaming experience. I learned a hell of a lot about agro running with young Hal’, but more about hers than mine . . . the pleasures of being a warrior.

“The auctioneer stuff, well, that supports a game other than the one Blizzard made. I don't think they intended people to be logging in in the morning to check the morning line on mithril in order to buy and resell.”

And thus they are purposely choosing to ignore an active part of their community.

“When I'm in WoW, I'm IN WoW. And when I'm not, I'm not. (And as we all know, we've yet to see a decent threaded discussion display/app. anywhere.).”

Here, I disagree. When I am online I am online. Not sure it should matter where I am. I wish WOW Chat would interface with AIM or some other outside vendor.

“I don't like VOIP in the game because, for me, it ruins the "magic circle" as Castranova or someone has called it.”

I agree and disagree. For me it is the is difference between the informal and formal run. I hate VOIP when I’m must running and gunning. When I am somewhere really hard . . . up against the unknown . . . I’ll take all the advice I can from any source I can.

“What's next, product placement?”

Actually, SONY has already implemented this IN GAME.

“I like the separate text/chat channels . . . That's just fine for me.”

For me, that is the issue. It isn’t about what is right for you, but about the possibilities of others. I use and don’t use many aspects of WOW. I would not wish away the aspects of WOW I don’t use.

“It would be nice for a guild to have a pop up, shared, calendar, in game. I imagine some moldy old tome that sits on my toolbar and picks up guild event notices. That could be cool. It would be nice if guilds over size X could claim a meeting space in-game, you know, regulars at The Slaughtered Lamb. That could be done much like an instance in that every group has its own space even though it is the same room/space. Maybe a guild that raids well could start to acquire, as a guild, a library of dungeon maps as a reward drop at the end of a successful guild group run. Even cooler if these were "empty" books or at least able to carry some notation by GMs or some guild designated scribe.”

So, you disagree we need better communication tools, but that is a LOVELY list!

“Culture is a delicate thing. We see around us on a daily basis the results of trying to engineer it, to brute force it into a particular way of engaging people.”

What is the difference in our discussion between ‘culture’ and ‘community’? Not a challenge . . . just asking someone who could answer the question.

“I think the way a game dev should work is build the game and watch, very closely, what the locals do. When they make tools from the sticks on the ground, understand what they are tyring to accomplish and think very, very, very, carefully about whether or not, and how, to integrate that functionality within a more formal ingame structure.”

And thus our monthly NERF and BUFF . . . which is always a nerf for warriors.

. . .

You disagree with the need for better communication tools benefiting a better community?

The Power of The Tacit or Culture vs. Brute Force

Ah James, I could not disagree with you more. How's that for an opening. Now let's see if I can begin to articulate my point. The game can't make the community communicate to the community. It can create the need for that to happen. If the game devs start to make structures and tools for that, you will find yourself chafing under the cultural decisions they have made. I would argue there is already a pretty good sized helping of P2P support available ingame. Later in this post I have some suggestions for more, but even then I see it as within group tools not tools for P2P.

I am, for the past three decades, more of an ethnographer than a lab scientist. This means I look at things a lot, and a long time, before I decide what they mean. One thing I watch closely is the quest log. Aside from raiding, and even in raiding to the extent raiding has a goal, the game is mostly about accomplishing difficult tasks that have considerably more than one way to get done. Sometimes, often, the manner of problem solving reflects your game cultural knowledge, e.g., about NPCs, about your class, about your level. Sometimes it is a matter of reading comprehension. We can all point to myriad Thottbot entries in which one writer chides another with something like, "Yo, @$$hole, read the quest. It tells you where to look" or some variation of that. Since the last patch, last big one, I've noticed a subtle change in the quest log. Quests that used to carry the label, ELITE, now carry the label, GROUP. It may be green or yellow or orange or red, but it's clearly been built to be solved by more than one body on the job. Maybe it calls for a puller or a healer or whatever.

So if you don't or can't or wont' get thee to a guild, or you're in a guild that doesn't help, you've got the LFG panel and general callouts in chat for PUGs. There are ways here to communicate with others. How many times have you been ping'd by someone you don't know who asks if you could help them do something. Now that I know the game, and now that my toons are either alts or top level, I'm more inclined to help people. When I was grinding for reals, I tended to eschew stranger invites, seeing them as detours rather than realizing them as possible future and even current help for me. But then...I never really like yelled "single" on the ski lift lines either. I'm not comfy with partnering up wth strangers. Hence my choice to go with a guild.

Anyhow, that's meant as an example of how the culture does, indeed, have "community" tools. Your take on my aggro example offers me a great chance to explain what I don't want, adn to underline the difference between emergent organic culture and something like school culture.

Aggro rings. Oh yeah. That's what I want. Like I'm not n00b enuff I gotta have a sign that's 20 feet in diameter and bright red. Like a hoolah hoop of n00bitude. That's got great appeal. Could you move please, I gotta swing my big fat red ring ass around the corner without pulling that goblin. Yeah.

When the culture is heavy handed like that it sin't a culture as much as a catechism. It's all reification and no participation. It tells me my aggro is this. It doesn't let me experitment and figure out workarounds. It can preclude conversations about the meaning of aggro that might otherwise take place as part of someone's explanation to me, for instance about the USES of aggro. It becomes more of the game controls to learn. How do I toggle that agg ring again? Can I change the color?

Some of the UI addons have made it into the game in the last patch, like the ability to open all bags at once. These are interface conveniences not comm help. The auctioneer stuff, well, that supports a game other than the one Blizzard made. I don't think they intended people to be logging in in the morning to check the morning line on mithril in order to buy and resell. I think it's cool and I bet they think it's cool, but it's not where their energy is focused. It is notable that they are so open in their game architecture as to allow for and even support compatible UI addons. I think it is interesting to note that Second Life has decided to follow the same route in their announcement this week that they're going open architecture.

It's a tough line to walk, that reification / participation line, and if you start trying to MAKE people communication or shove them in that direction you end up having to make decisions about how you're going to structure that communication, i.e,. you design HOW they're going to communicate. Look at the "free" guilduniverse supports. OMG are those a pain in the arse or what. So ancient in their design. So linear and taxonomic. It's like they were built for chess by email or something. Yet, communities or guilds do need spaces. I would prefer they were ingame, mostly because I don't check them out otherwise. They are one step too many outside my consciousness. When I'm in WoW, I'm IN WoW. And when I'm not, I'm not. (And as we all know, we've yet to see a decent threaded discussion display/app. anywhere.).

I don't like VOIP in the game because, for me, it ruins the "magic circle" as Castranova or someone has called it. The game is orcs and horses and we're gonna use modern tech? what's next, product placement? I've been on raids w/o Vent access and the raid message across the middle of the screen works just fine. I don't need to hear some madman screaming "and when I say slow I mean fucking slow..." I like the separate text/chat channels. When we were raiding MC the warlocks could and did maintain their own chat on soulstones, etc on the warlock channel. That's just fine for me. It lets me engage functionally with my peeps and affords some privacy or clubiness to our conversation. It keeps it off the main line so the raid leaders can scream commands there. LOL.

It would be nice for a guild to have a pop up, shared, calendar, in game. I imagine some moldy old tome that sits on my toolbar and picks up guild event notices. That could be cool. It would be nice if guilds over size X could claim a meeting space in-game, you know, regulars at The Slaughtered Lamb. That could be done much like an instance in that every group has its own space even though it is the same room/space. Maybe a guild that raids well could start to acquire, as a guild, a library of dungeon maps as a reward drop at the end of a successful guild group run. Even cooler if these were "empty" books or at least able to carry some notation by GMs or some guild designated scribe.

Now having said all that, whatever it means, let me add that both Clivenar/Yojimbo/Ødin and I are supremely disappointed by the decision to group servers for BGs. We really, really, really dug fighting the same pre-mades regularly. We couldn't communicate with 'em except to drop trou or shout unintelligible insults or do the chicken dance, but we loved fighting NancyCallahan and DBCooper and jackShepard, and beginning to earn their respect. It was actually a big part of the fun in playing. Now we can still look for them and their comments in the WoW server forums, but since we rarely have the luck to play against each other, our comments are not directed to each other. We're no longer relevant to each other's game play.

That's had the biggest impact on communication and it wasn't a comm. tool it was a cultural shift in what it meant to play BGs. That and the new rep/honor system are killing BGs as a sport. Now it's about the rewards; now it's become like the old S&H Green Stamps or the Blue Chip stamps your mom used to collect to cash in for goodies. (So now all the hunters have the icy polearm from AV. What's the f'n point?)

Culture is a delicate thing. We see around us on a daily basis the results of trying to engineer it, to brute force it into a particular way of engaging people. (Maybe someday we'll get a president with an ethnographic or anthro background who understands that foreign policy work is culture work.)

I think the way a game dev should work is build the game and watch, very closely, what the locals do. When they make tools from the sticks on the ground, understand what they are tyring to accomplish and think very, very, very, carefully about whether or not, and how, to integrate that functionality within a more formal ingame structure.

This may not have been an integrated essay; I was writing off the top of my head while waiting for Blizz to solve the problem that is keeping me out of hte game atm. LOL.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Communication and Community, Part II

I think I have sold short WOW in communication in one sense. It does an amazing jorb of communicating visually surroundings and situations. I think there are many subtle signals sent that benefit all of us. Yet, that is the game communicating with the community and not the community communicating with community.

There are mods that allow for more communication like Auctioneer that reveals expected price in the Auction House as well as to vendors and even down to the results of disenchanting. Again, the game communicating data to player, but not the community in this case. I’m often asked to reveal this information as many do not load these mods.

Hal’ asked in the Wiki about agro radius. This information is there in the game to be communicated, if the game developers choose to communicate it. Easy enough to put a subtle ring around a player or a mob. . . . and on the mini-map.

I recall those days running backwards just to watch young Hal’ agro anything and everything. I even once saw her agro something from another game . . . it looked like Big Bird. Yet, if I didn’t run backward she’d be toast faster then she could communicate it to me in text [this might be my fault for not taking full advantage of the audio and having country AND western music up too loud to hear the hacking into the young warlock flesh].

Yet, these are all player to product communication functions. They do not extend beyond that limited scope. When it comes to the community, we have tools so limited as to be laughable for a game bragging eight million players.

Friday, January 12, 2007

So, I had a dream . . .

And luckily the first person I was able to talk to was the perfect person . . . Vicki . . . after that was Eric. I’m a lucky man to know such fine folks who know so much more than I do. After that . . . it was g-money . . . the man who rode up provided gold and bags. Little did we know what a gift it was.

O.K. so my thoughts these days are on community and communication . . . tools and techniques. Yet, my dream and subsequent conversation with these fine folks was more a model for a different game. Some would see a disconnect, but I do not.

One thing I believe in these games is we do what we would do if we really could . . . if there were no pain and we could run back from the graveyard. We’d explore these amazing worlds in the real world, as in the virtual, if we only could . . . and we’d do it in the cinematic style with comrades at our sides.

I think that is why millions are playing and millions more will . . . there is no more west to go anymore except in a virtual sense. Yet, like in the west, not everyone sought out to be a mountain man or fight . . . err . . . indigenous mobs. Many sought to set up farms and trading posts and to bring civilization [and churches] with them.

And that is what the games are lacking. The two big-boys are WOW and SL . . . and they need to spawn a child . . . and a new west. I will try to articulate these ideas over the next couple of days, but neither Vicki or Eric openly laughed, so assuming I am at least making some sense.

Communication and Community

To me, these cannot be separated.

Reading Nicolas Ducheneaut [] piece in Terra Nova [], I was struck by the similarities in Nicolas’ research and my own experience in the game.

“It is only at level 56 and above that players spend the majority of their time in groups (probably raiding high-end instances). Moreover, players favor "soloable" classes (warriors, hunters) that, by design, survive mob encounters better in solo play - the more social classes (e.g. priests) that require a group to work well are among the least favored.”

My experience was to group seldom even back in Blackhand. I either ran with Hallgrima, or on my own. I interacted more with NPCs than with PCs. It wasn’t for an anti-social bent on my part, but for a lack of well developed or sophisticated social tools within the game.

Nicolas asks, “Does this mean that, to reach WoW's scale and attract gamers as-yet unfamiliar with the genre, future MMOs should focus less on collaborative questing and other traditional techniques to encourage interactions, favoring instead "looser," more indirect forms of social experience?”

For me the issue that leads to the stats that they are sifting is not the character’s preference, but the pragmatics of dealing with poor communication and community tools. When we speak of WOW we are also now inferring Thotbott and Allakhazamas well as Ventrio and TeamSpeak as well as forums and scattered goggled web spaces.

A guild is little more than a self-populating [and often un-populating] friends list. Communication is little more then text with occasional colors. Physical movement is generally used for amusement as opposed to tactics. A friends list is little more than just a collection of folks who you have once upon a time had the pleasure to run something there or there.

Where are the social tools for community building in a game now bragging eight million? AND . . . what would they be?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

It's The Community Stupid, Part Duex

Totally agree with your comments, Boss, but . . .

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but once built . . . not like we can wander off and build another one . . .nor would it be the same. Communities are very similar, in my estimation . . . which is preformed with an abacus that a six year old painted all the beads blue. New communities form and old ones die, but never do they rebuild themselves the same.

My point, sharpened by a dulled wit, is that is the community that matters. Yeah, we can all dance and joke while waiting for a Zepher [Can’t believe you’re a gods-damned hordie!] We can form groups and guilds from such simple starts, but . . .that does not form a community.

Communities come from conflict and compromise. They come from characters and care-takers. And like Rome . . . they are not built overnight. They are the work of people, not players. They are the work of politics, not programmed responses.

Community . . . unlike Camelot . . . is not JUST a model!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

It's the Community Stupid

So . . .

What makes a MMOG? [Or whatever the hell we are calling them these days.] I think the say question could be asked, “What makes a community?” I’m wandering deserted halls . . . lost and lonely. I see people, but have no more impulse to talk to them then I do in an airport as I move from terminal to terminal.

I fight the urge several times to unload SOH and reload WOW. Why? It isn’t the game . . . it’s the community. Hall’ texted me today and it was like mana from heaven [Hey, that works on both sides, boss . .. even think it works with Muslim who believe Moses had a long beard and a tattoo of Vishnu . . . who is Hindu but . . . wait . .best not get into religious politics . . . especially seeing that Israeli is about to light up Iran.]

O.K., back to the point . . . I am PAINFULLY lonely in this game. Yes, there are ‘peeps’, but they are not my ‘peeps’. They are not Owl or Fel or Sage or . . . well, hellfire damnation, Twink or Hallgrima or Akmalla or Clive . . . these people are my . . . O.K. . . . lets avoid Mush and Slither here . . . . lets find some way to say this that isn’t . . . well . . . we used to be able to say ‘gay’, but that would be wrong . . . not that there is anything wrong with that.

Yet, I am here to say, sober as I am [We are starting an off-track betting procedure for that], it is the community stupid . . . and I miss my community. So, what is this new thing? We used to have neighbors, now we have guildsmen. We used to have co-workers we met in the pub down the corner, now we have a friends list and one of them want you to tank Strat.

It isn’t the graphics. It isn’t the content. It isn’t the mechanics. O.K., if they suck it makes it hard . . . and not in a Hally Berry In Monster’s Ball way, but in a guy with a too thick accent way. Being able to communicate is important, but I think communities always find a way . . . just like I think love always used to. O.K. . . .getting side tracked here again.

This is what I am trying to say . . . community, community, community. That’s it. The games that will succeed are the ones who get that. People only play these things long enough to see what is different . . . after that . . . people still live in North Dakota for crying out loud! Why? Only two reasons . . . they are part of a community or part of the Witness Relocation Program . . . or both.

I think SOH sucks, but it isn’t the look or the game play . . . both are acceptable. It isn’t no Thotbott or Google search answers [though . . WOW . .that makes it hard!] It is because I am alone . . . so very alone. And there it is . . . the holy grail of MMOGS . . . the holy grail of almost everything. Make us unlonely!

It’s six hours at the pub while the wife gets annoyed or six hours in Strat while the wife gets annoyed. It’s killing time just BEING with your peeps. These games are the THIRD SPACE, but they don’t get it . . . cause they don’t listen or learn from those who do.

I hate SOH . . . but I hate WOW . . . but I love my community in WOW. They are familiar . . . as is the surroundings and the expectations. In SOH I’m a skinner who can’t skin and a diplomat who . . . ok . . . me being a diplomat is just stupid! Yet, mostly I am alone.

First Impressions of V:SOH

It ain’t WOW!. The cartoon look versus the oil painting look takes some getting used to. Personally, I think the cartoon effect of WOW does a far better jorb of representing the play . . . plus . . . I don’t look stocky so much as fat . . .and the asses aren’t as nice in these parts.

The interface is similar in a way that drives you a lil’ nuts. Similar isn’t the same. Levels 1 through 5 have gone quick enough and nothing much different then the baby Dwarf lands that Hal’ and I grew up in . . . run there . . kill X amount of those . . . exc . . .

I miss most [well, you folks], but the mini-map. The one in this game is mostly useless. I have chosen to play a dwarf warrior [go figure] and have been doing what most dwarf warriors do . . . hit, rinse, repeat.

There is a real question to me why I made this choice AGAIN, but I chalk it up the fact that if you folks come over . . . like when Hal’ and I started . . . someone has to be the strong sturdy type.

There is an aspect of the game very interesting and it is diplomacy. It is basically a card game I have no understanding of, but have managed to win enough times to be on my way to being a diplomat. Now, if that doesn’t scare you . . . not sure what will.

The game runs clunkly . . . which is the greatest annoyance. Like me trying to navigate a straight hallway after 3am . .. studder . . stop . . stumble . . .crash. I am exaggerating, but it doesn’t have that smotthness I am used to with WOW . ..

Oh, and I hate everyone here. Nothing new there, but there has been no reason for me to form friendships or connections or even help someone out. The only up side so far on that front has been there have been no nasty Nelfs. .

Monday, January 08, 2007

Steven Spilberg

BTW . . . asked what SS's best movie he ever directed was and you DO NOT respond EMPIRE OF THE SUN, I will drive to your location, paying for my own gas, and beat you about the head and neck with a ceramic monkey and pelt you with rocks AND garbage.

SOH Report One

Has taken almost 12 hours to download the beta and am just minutes away from creating my first character. I had to unnstall WOW and Photoshop as this thing takes 17+ gig to install.

Don't think I'm all hopped up on goofballs but I was thinking of making ma dwarf warrior . . .what do you thing?

What I have culled from SOH reviews.

we were taken aback by the scale of the world and the reversal of gameplay mechanics that made exploration and travel more important aspects than quick action.

Artistically the style is supposed to resemble an oil painting. This influence is most noticeable in the distant landscapes like mountain ranges. The way some of the textures and colors blend does have some resemblance to more classic art mediums.

The issue isn't the wanting to go there but the actual getting there. The world is large. Very, very large. The time saving travel techniques found in games like WoW aren't going to be a part of the Vanguard experience by design.

A lot of effort is being put into making sure players will be able to distinguish their characters, and their character possessions, from others.

One of the interesting things about Vanguard, one that's pretty controversial and one we're still not too sure about, is the lack of instances. They didn't want to break people out of the MMO experience at any point so players might end up sitting in some of the dreaded spawn camping lines that have been much maligned over the years.

This is something that Sigil has taken into consideration as well and they've come up with a system they're hoping might solve some of the bottleneck. In certain areas, spawns will be tied to quests. This means a group with a chain quest might enter into an area and have a group of enemies pop up to kill them. More importantly, the same thing will happen for the larger named boss characters that usually have the best item drops. These enemies will be tied to the group so other players in the area won't be able to steal the kills. Others will be able to help out by healing, but won't actually be able to damage whatever main enemy it is. This should help with the bottleneck as once the creature is dead, the group that killed him won't get the spawn anymore so they'll have to move on leaving the next group in line to have a shot at the boss.

There's no instancing, teleportation is very rare, and travel between areas is rather difficult and slow. The majority of player travel will be done on a variety of land-based or flying mounts or by ship.

The game will also bring back something most people thought was dead -- spawn camping. Players who entered the MMO scene post-World of Warcraft may not be familiar with the concept, but the term refers to rare monsters that only spawn at certain times that may be necessary for a variety of quests. As a result, groups of players cluster around such creatures' spawn points, often waiting for hours for the creature to appear, each hoping to be the first to tag the creature and get whatever it is that drops. The team's rationale behind it is that they don't want to lose the social interactions that come from groups attempting to work out access to rare resources. They also believe that the problem with rare spawns isn't their existence, but that parties often have nothing else to do while they're waiting. Vanguard's three-track experience system is supposed to give players something fun to work on while playing solo or waiting for a spawn to arrive.

"Diplomacy is one of our youngest systems," Williams said. I worked my way through Nalzen's first tutorial and while it was a bit confusing, what I eventually figured out is that diplomacy is a way of affecting the world and completing quests by basically playing a collectable card game. Every diplomat has a series of "cards" that represent a variety of conversational gambits. "Snippet of Wisdom," for example, is a "Reason" card, while "Aggressive Statement" generates "Demand" when players enter into a conversation (called a "parley"), a table appears on screen consisting of a player's point totals, four meters representing various conversational "power levels" and a "conversational flow meter" set at zero. The basic game consists of using various cards to fill up these power meters and pull the flow meter toward the player's side of the table. Each round that the meter is on their side, that player loses a point and sees another line of conversational dialogue. First one to get to zero wins the conversation and finishes another chapter in a story that can range from simple quests to bring a woman's husband home from a bar, to a continent-wide tale of betrayal and murder.

"Once upon a time, cities were just the places you sold loot, bought new armor and left as quickly as possible," Williams said. "For the diplomat, though, our cities are dungeons." Player characters will have three separate experience and skill point totals, so a hardcore diplomat with 350 out of 500 total skill points might only be a fifth-level sorcerer and a third-level crafter. Characters will also have three separate paper-doll systems for clothing and items that they'll automatically don when using various skills. That means that diplomats don't have to waste time in the wilderness changing into battle gear. There's a completely separate itemization tree for each gameplay track and a whole series of adjustments that need to be made when dealing with city denizens.

Without presence of a specific level, certain characters will not talk to the player, therefore one of the diplomat's major gameplay dynamics will be the acquisition of new and better diplomatic clothing along with more powerful conversational gambits (the cards) to use in those high-level power meetings.

If, for example, a player wants to parley with a local kobold chieftain for an "embassy mission," he may demand that the player wear the signet ring of a rival Orc warlord before he'll talk to you. The Orc warlord probably won't want to give that up, so it'll require the diplomat to call in friends with sharp swords.

Diplomats will also get involved with something called "city politics." City politics are a series of invisible levers that diplomats can push via conversations with influential characters around the city. Depending on how they choose to interact with them, these levers can shift the balance of power for various political parties and cities, causing enormous ripples that have significant effects on the real world. At the simplest level, diplomats can push levers that give citywide bonuses to any adventurers or crafters within city limits.

At higher levels city politics get even more elaborate. A dwarven city under threat of kobold attack, for example, can have its morale raised or lowered by diplomats. Raise it high enough and the city begins to feel hope again and work on repairing its defenses, generating a bonus for crafters and triggering crafting quests that are only available when morale is high. Conversely, they may elect to push city morale down. When it gets low enough, it'll trigger an attack by nearby kobolds. That's not so good for the dwarves but should be a bonanza for adventurers who will have access to quests and loot that's otherwise unavailable. There's even a PvP element to city politics as teams of diplomats compete with each other to pus

"Social players always had an opportunity to be social, but they never had any sort of ownership or influence," Williams concludes. "The people chatting with each other were never as important as adventurers or crafters. We aim to change that."

Misconception Numero Uno, and possibly the single biggest communications nightmare facing Sigil, is the entirely understandable belief that Vanguard is a hardcore MMORPG, designed for ultra-hardcore MMORPG players - the kind of people who turn up their noses at World of Warcraft for being "too casual", and who are colloquially known as "bottle-pissers" due to an often committed, yet rarely confessed, act of desperation during extremely long MMOG raiding sessions. Hey, it's a lifestyle choice, and if you're happy with that, then good luck to you - at least you're not doing anything genuinely odious, like buying Jimmy Carr DVDs. However tolerant we may pretend to be of the bottle-pissing masses, however, the fact is that if Vanguard was really designed to appeal to that market, the game would crash and burn instantly - there simply aren't enough truly hardcore MMOG fans out there to support an ambitious project like this, after all.

Each of the races looks very distinct, so you should see far fewer "clones" in Vanguard than you see in other games - but more importantly, Sigil has opted to provide an astonishingly powerful set of tools to players for character creation. Every element of your character's features can be modified, ranging from height and body mass to tiny details like how close-set the eyes are and how large the hands are in proportion to the rest of the body. The final results can, admittedly, look very bizarre - but with a little tweaking you can make a huge range of attractive, or at least interesting, characters, and the chances of running into a doppelganger are incredibly slim.

Each of the 17 playable races can choose from a number of character classes - there are 15 in total in the game at present (more will be added after launch, we're assured), but no one race can access all 15 classes, so choosing the right race and class combination is vital (thankfully, the screen where you roll your character is extremely simple and intuitive when it comes to these options - click on a character class, and the races which can play that class are highlighted; click on a race, and the classes it can play are highlighted). These classes range from straightforward "ugh me hit things" guys like the Warrior, through to much more interesting and (somewhat) original classes like the Psionist and the Blood Mage.

Now, at this point you're probably thinking the same thing we were - that having 17 races and 15 classes sounds bloody complicated, and immediately off-putting for the average player. However, Sigil has cunningly decided to actually break down all its character classes into four broad categories - Defensive Fighters, Offensive Fighters, Arcane Casters and Healers. This makes finding the type of character you want to play much easier, and to the developers' credit, each class within the "class grouping" plays very differently. Although I play a Paladin of some description in almost everything (get your booing, hissing and calls for nerfing in now, WoW types!), it's hard not to be attracted by the Blood Mage, who basically forms blood pacts with both those he is healing and those he is dealing damage to, and the Necromancer, who can animate corpses to fight for him. Best of all, each of these classes plays uniquely from the outset - Sigil recognises that all too many games start out casting classes that should be interesting, in theory, by making them stab things with daggers for five to ten levels, so they've ensured that a core skill that demonstrates the unique nature of the class is available to players from the outset.

there are dozens of animals that can be used as mounts in the game, another ambitious move on the part of the developers, and mounted combat is on the roadmap post-release, we're assured

Vanguard's list of "headline" features doesn't stop there. You can buy property in the game, build a house on it and furnish it - and as a result, crafting is an enormous part of the game, with the team boasting that there will be 40,000 items to craft, ranging from the usual armour and weapons to things like furniture for houses. However, the crafting system seems to be in a state of flux at present; an earlier system which was very involved and quite unlike anything in any previous MMOG has been toned down seriously, which has some of the long-term beta testers in open revolt. Whether this toning down is a step that makes things more accessible to the average player, or a genuine dumbing down of a previously interesting system, is something that won't really be clear until the dust settles on the whole issue - for now, though, the prospect of a more dynamic and player-driven economy where crafting is a genuine core talent and a fun aspect of the game, rather than just being a sideshow attraction as it is in WoW and most other MMOGs, is a promising one.

Properties can also be turned into businesses, and it's possible to create a shop, set opening hours and so on, and essentially become a trader in the game - another different way to play which Vanguard hopes to offer to players for whom the quest 'n grind approach has grown weary. Like houses, boats, too, can be crafted and purchased - ranging from little one-man skiffs up to enormous Guild-owned vessels. The immediate question on everyone's lips when they see those ships is whether they'll get to play at being pirates; yes, Sigil assures us, naval combat and boarding of other ships will happen, but not until after the launch of the game.

Sigil seems to be down on the idea of allowing extensive user modding of Vanguard, but the team is keen to offer a solid UI that doesn't need modding instead - so, for example, you get an extremely useful panel by default which shows exactly which monsters are currently attacking your team, how powerful they are and which player they're currently targeting, all at a glance. Anyone who has ever played through a tough dungeon or a raid will immediately appreciate how useful that is.

Or the appearance of a number of dots beneath each monster you see, which provides another layer of information on top of the traditional "con" colour of the monster's name (for the uninitiated, monsters in MMOGs have different coloured names depending on what level they are relative to you - in general grey means they're way below your level, green and yellow are around your level or slightly above, red is significantly above and purple means RUN RUN FOR THE LOVE OF GOD RUN). The dots indicate how powerful a monster is for its level - anything above three dots is designed to be taken on by a group, and six dots means you shouldn't try it without a raid party.

Other ideas also stand out as feeling as though they come from really great mods, rather than being the kind of feature an MMOG development team would add from scratch. In combat, for example, there are certain chain attacks which you can execute by following up another team member's attack with one of your own; conversely, there are some attacks and spells which directly nullify attacks or spells used by your enemies. In both cases, timing is crucial - and rather than forcing you to work out what to do by trial and error, Vanguard's user interface actually pops up a button when a chain attack is available to you, which you can use to execute the correct attack automatically. Naturally, there's a balance to be struck - click this button every time it appears and you'll end up screwing up because you're not paying attention to other aspects of combat, or are using up all your mana points, or whatever - but it's certainly more fun than the closest equivalent system I can think of in an MMOG, Final Fantasy XI's incredibly arcane and labyrinthine combat skill chaining system.

Take the "corpse run", a staple of EverQuest gameplay which saw freshly resurrected players being forced to run across hostile areas "naked" to recover their equipment from their now-deceased body; while Vanguard initially incorporated this aspect, it now offers players the option, when they die, of paying some gold, taking an XP penalty or, in some cases, doing a short corpse run. The choice of how to pay for your death is the most user-friendly we've seen in any game yet - certainly not the motif of a game designed only for bottle-pissers.

"We wanted to go with a '1001 Arabian Nights' theme." Karlsson said about building Qalia. "It's pan-Persian, pseudo-Arab, a mix of Babylonian, Phoenician, and Egyptian influences in an attempt to pay homage to the history and mythos of that fantasy world while still providing a solid enough anchor that people could identify with it. We've taken great care to not have any particular features which stand out substantially as one culture or another, but rather this hodge-podge blend with a layer of fantasy over the top."

If, for example, players have outgrown their starting village and the surrounding countryside, they may start out on a quest to reach the capital city of the Empire of Aghram, and not get there for some time. That's because the journey itself is the content, not the eventual destination. Things will come up, players will get distracted by world events, and bits of ancient lore may be discovered that will lead the players on a hunt for the Nusibe Necropolis. Indeed, by the time they reach the city, they may find that they no longer wish to stop there because their character progression has changed their goals.

While traditional crafting will be viable ways to play the game, Vanguardmay be the first MMO to have "explorer" as a realistic job title.

Here the designers felt that "dumbing down" massively multiplayer games wasn't the solution. Creating instanced dungeons may give the games more of a single-player feel, but in the process games lose the magic and spontaneity that makes multiplayer special. Similarly, allowing players to teleport all over the map is convenient for adventuring with friends, but in the process gamers lose the whole feel of a "quest," or of adventuring into the unknown. The Vanguard team doesn't want to lose the special experiences that only massively multiplayer games can offer, but they're still aware of the problems from those original games.

Getting there is a game in and of itself. Woodworkers and shipwrights can help build a massive ship, provided that they can get ropes and cloth and tools and all the other materials from an army of fellow players. Once the ship is built, a whole guild can travel together on the high seas - discovering new islands and fighting off sea creatures all along the way. The voyage won't be a hassle: it'll be part of the game.

. . . and living was mistakes not made

Play Late,

Starting with lyrics . . .

The old gunfighter on the porch
stared into the sun
and relived the days of living by the gun
when deadly games of pride were played
and living was mistakes not made

and the thought of the smell of the black powder smoke
and the stand in the street at the turn of a joke
Ah, the smell of the black powder smoke
and the stand in the street at the turn of a joke

It's always keep your back to the sun
and he can almost feel the weight of the gun
it's faster than snakes or the blink of an eye
and it's a time for all slow men to die
and his eyes get squinty and his fingers twitch
and he empties the gun at the son of a bitch

and he's hit by the smell of the black powder smoke
and the stand in the street at the turn of a joke
hit by the smell of the black powder smoke
and the stand in the street at the turn of a joke

Now the burn of a bullet is only a scar
he's back in his chair in front of the bar
and the streets are empty and the blood's all dried
and the dead are dust and the whiskey's inside
so buy him a drink and lend him an ear
he's nobody's fool and the only one here

who remembers the smell of the black powder smoke
and the stand in the street at the turn of a joke
remember the smell of the black powder smoke
and the stand in the street at the turn of a joke

He said I stood in that street before it was paved
learned shoot or be shot before I could shave
and I did it all for the money and fame
noble was nothing but feeling no shame
and nothing was sacred but stayin' alive
and all that I learned from a Colt 45

was to curse the smell of the black powder smoke
and the stand in the street at the turn of a joke
curse the smell of the black powder smoke
and the stand in the street at the turn of a joke

Now he's just an old man that no one believes
says he's a gunfighter, the last of the breed
and there are ghosts in the street seeking revenge
calling him out to the lunatic fringe
now he's out in the traffic checking the sun
and he's killed by a car as he goes for his gun

So much for the smell of the black powder smoke
and the stand in the street at the turn of a joke
so much for the smell of the black powder smoke
and the stand in the street at the turn of a joke

People either love me or hate me . . . and they take almost no time to decide. For me . . . it’s about the same. I am leaving a lot of folks I love behind . . . and it feels like a mistake. There is a scar on the back of my hand that will always remind me of someone I loved and now hate. Emotion is funny that way. And leaving WOW comes with a lot of emotion for me.

Hallgrima, Twinkleheal, Akmalla, Clive’, Owl’ and Fel’ and otheres . . . they are a family to me that is hard to explain [as my gal questions that 'silly game'] and I know that in the next game they won’t be there. I want to stay just so I can be at their service and at their side, but that is not a reason that has ever kept me from moving on. Damn them . . . and bless them . . . and I WILL miss them.

I never know if folks have the same level of affection for me I have for them. I’m often surprised. I know Hall’ and I started this, but Twink was there [almost] when I turned 60 and he was there when I logged off [almost] for the last time. I will miss him most of all.

I’m downloading Vangaurd right now . . . and pouring another drink . . and lighting another cigar. I looked in the mirror and looked old. I’m . . . well . . could be called names like alcoholic or stalker or asshole, but I’m just a dwarf warrior moving on and none can say I wasn’t a good companion in an instance or incident.

I don’t know what Vanguard will bring, but I’ll report regularly. I expect a lot of the same, but I expect a lot of what Hall’ and I had first . . .wonderful confusion. We were in a world where we didn’t know . . . and that’s the world I want to return. I fear the rest of you are too comfortable with your levels and your characters and your understanding as well as your Thottbott. The adventure is gone . . . now it is just chasing quests and exploring for equipment.

I hope you will consider joining me in this new realm . . . partly cause I think it is right to move on an partly cause I will miss your companionship deeply. Yet, going it alone . . . yeah . . . I can do that.

Next stop . . . next post . . . SOH!


Monday, January 01, 2007

The Love Song of J. Brian Rhoads [With apologies to Eliot]

The Love Song of J. Brian Rhoads [With apologies to Eliot]

Once upon a time I was sitting in class . . . well . . I was sitting exactly where I am now and staring through this pane into what we considered class. This was years ago now [a scary thought in and of itself]. It was a first meeting between instructor and students.

Two of the students, ladies then and now [Tara and Stella, how I miss you!] were having connectivity issues. As they dropped from the list of active names one more time the instructor typed, “In the room the women come and go.” This was a comment lost on the rest, but I responded like a cold war spy returning the counter-phrase, “Talking of Michelangelo”.

That was the moment I knew I’d like the women we know as Hallgrima. Her and I share a repository of what we find cool. Time after time we challenge each other with pop-culture pass codes . . . always reminding each other we are indeed cool.

As I recall, this was also [or damned near] the time that a friend of mine was starting to stretch himself a bit. After watching me play the fool for months he decided he might take a turn himself. He stepped up and challenged Hall’ in a way that I was very impressed and a bit humbled. Behind his stance was an earnestness and honesty I lack . . . and thus the relationship between Twink’ and Hall’ began in a totally different way.

Yet, both these folks have remained constant in my life through the last three years. I have leaned on them from time to time and let them down on other times. Both remain exceedingly important to me, but not for who I would want them to be, but for exactly who they are.

I like it when Twink gets annoyed. I like it when Hall’ gets pissy. They are all too human in a way I wish I could be. It is so refreshing to see that regardless of their age and profession and standing that they have not lost the very real childlike sense of play . . . and that play can be emotional.

Laying [lying?] in bed with the cell-phone in my ear . . . my girlfriend is talking about my ‘stupid little game’. O.K. she said ‘silly’, but she meant stupid. First rule of women, listen to what they mean and not what they say. I try to explain it is so much about social and responsibility. I try to explain, but she doesn’t get it . . . not buying it. She wants to know how I can spend hours with people I have never met and how I can care so much about them.

Owl was crying tonight because . . . well, me. I quiet the guild in protest of Hall’ not being given a counselor seat at the table [regardless of her refusal to take it]. We have family drama going on and it is affecting the family in different ways. It is politics . . . and I’m too good at them . . . if you consider a 4’ x 8’ piece of plywood a good flyswatter.

I am a predator by nature and when I see an opportunity I pounce. It gets me into trouble . . . and doc programs. When HKBOT came over and brought a PROT SPEC Warrior, I knew we had an opportunity to grow as a guild. I don’t know why I knew, I just knew. So, I opened negotiations with SMASH to merge with PHANT’. This seemed VERY logical to me. SMASH is imbued with the essence of Twink’ and that makes them a damned good fit for us.

They are more studious than us. They are more serious than us. They are more focused. All of these I saw as a plus for a guild that is borderline sewing guild at times. Taking on 20 or so toons and alts would only bring more life to us. And the knowledge of Turbo alone was worth the price of admission.

Owl gave me her proxy to make the deal and I gave away more than most. I gave away half of the leadership. Call it a gamble, but I trust Turbo and I trust Twink and I trust that the mix would create a synergy to move us all forward to a guild that can actually run instances. AND . .. I will be proven right . . . yet . . . I managed to anger a friend and mentor which was never my intent.

I remember the first time I met Owl. It was back in the Night Shift days. It was the first time that WOW ceased to be a game and instead became a huge chat interface. I believe Nemi was involved as well. I was just sitting down south in Hordeland and not even playing . . . just chatting.

I remember back in the efnet days in #truth. There were so many friends and foes and it was such a pleasure to be amongst them. We would split ride and nick collide and argue the hours away. The same goes with Planetside. We took towers and bases and blew tubes and bailed from flaming aircraft into fray after fray. And WOW . . . always once more into the breach. It isn’t the activity, but the company . . . and all good things . . . come to an end.

And for the record . . . when it comes to Phant . . . it has been LONG overdue that the Pep folks be given a seat at the table. We supported and sustained the leadership for a very long time and asked for nothing. We were always there . . . always standing besides the rest. The simple fact is Hall’ is our leader and if you had just listened to me . . . You talk of earning positions . . . we have earned them a dozen times over . . . and over.

Felison calls me, as he has often . . . and it does not go well. I have my position. He has his . . . and not rickety rope bridge between them. I’m talking influence and consequences and he is hearing blackmailing threats. We try again later to talk, but it too late . . . he has made me the cartoon character villain. That’s alright . . . I’m used to it. He wants simple statement and sentiments . . . things I cannot offer. Instead, I’ll just sit and twirl my mustache.

So, it has been a day of drama . . . of taking sides . . . or sitting on fences. It has been a day of uncertainty and chaos . . . and thank god! Fuck the status quo. Shake it up. Lets see where everyone really stands. I’m a constructivist … whatever happens IS the lesson and the learning for me. I play this game for more than just the play . . . but to learn how folks interact here. Like a good wipe . . . I love a good squabble. It shows everyone’s character and connections.

I know . . . I’m the asshole. Like Twink saying I was a bad player . . . I’m a bad community member too. I like tapping on the glass . . . I like seeing the reactions. I think it reveals much . . . and I think the new patterns that form are important as well. I doubt Phant will be the same . . . and good.

Lastly, I played with Aka tonight. She has come a VERY long way as a warrior. For the first time, she fought beside me and not just fought. There was that sense of trust I have with Fel . . . I could tell when she had it handled, regardless of her health meter. She did everything right and we came through a number of mobs we could not have a month ago. I am proud of her . . . and a lot of that has to do with her training in Phant.

Owl, Nemi, Sage, Clive, Hall’, Fel’, etc . . . and myself. We have made up a family in Phant. We have brought on new folks in HKBOT and X as well as Turbo and the SMASH crew. It cannot stay the same, yet . . . what we have does not have to be lost. It can be build upon . . . but it cannot stay the same. Only dead things go down stream.

Fel’ calls me quitting a stunt . . . I call it a protest. Show me any large group that doesn’t have multiple centers of power? The trick here is to merge them into a working guild. I have EVERY faith in Turbo and Hallgrima as I do with Owl and Nemi. And Cy’ . . . he is the right man for the jorb to pull it all together. I wish them well.

Copy of Post to Phant' Forum

To the powers that be [cue banjo music]

I have a HUGE affection for MANY in this guild. This is the only guild that was ever my home. Yet, it is a guild based more on nepotism and artificial criteria than anything else. Forgive me for dropping my 100k education on you all . . . but communities are emergent . . . not pre-packaged and served in Styrofoam. When Sage found me in the wilderness he did not invite me to a raiding guild . . . but to come home. And what a guild it has been these weeks. It has been as friendly and family oriented as anyone could wish in a guild. Yet, that isn't what Owl and Cy want . . . they want a raiding guild . . . and raiding guilds [trust me, I've been there] suck. They are cold and calculating and all about DKP. I'd rather be in a guild helping folks through VC through Mara then running ZG once a day.

We have great players . . . but . . .

The Pep folks have long suffered along side you and have long supported and sustained the powers that be. I helped recruit a lot of VERY good players of all levels. Folks like HKBOT and his buddy X are worth their weight in gold. Players like Turbo and Twink's alts are not just skilled, but major repositories of knowledge . . . knowledge we need. All I asked was a seat at the table . . . a table that includes Owls sister and boyfriend. Hardly an equitable situation.

Hallgrima got pissed the other night . . . that does not erase a year of her being there day in and day out. You folks are wrong . . . and by folks I mean the leadership. Because of that you totally dismiss her contribution of time and peeps. You want to wipe her contribution away cause you think she threw a tantrum? Shame on all of you! Aka, Clive, Twink, myself . .. we have been here ONLY because of her. Yet. it seems clear in your simplistic views that means nothing . . . those contributions are worthless.

So, you can have your guild the way YOU want it and NOT share power with those who have always been there with you . . . mostly cuase they would not want a 50 raiding guild. So, I'm out . . .and I'm out all the way. You want a raiding guild at the expense of the wonderful guild you already have.

Hallgrima is as good as they come and if you don't want her . . you cannot have me. And you are fools for the positions you have taken. Honoring Hall' and Pep cost you nothing . . . insulting us . . .. well . .. that has a cost.

Fel calls it emotional blackmail. I call it consequences for not honoring those who have honored you. Somehow, you've got it in your mind you deserve our loyalty. .. as opposed to earning it. You take us for granted and . . . well . . . no more for me . .. I did a lot for this guild to make it a pleasant place. What did I ask for besides making Hal a counselor? What did I bring? Your egos are the issue as well as your elites endgame ideas. .. but not for me anymore. I'd rather be guildless then guilded with those who only understand nepotism, artificial social structures and rash judgments of folks they have known for over a year.

A'dios . . . and good luck.

P.S. And I expect this post to be deleted