Letter Grief

July 15th, 2002

So the reason I haven't gotten a new column up yet is pretty simple - Neverwinter Nights.

I'll admit, I've been a bit of a fanboy of it ever since it was announced. What's not to like about a near full rendition of the Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition ruleset and a fairly powerful toolkit so that anyone can make their own content?

When I played 3 or 4 hours of the included campaign and was apathetic, then, it's not surprising. Anyone who dismisses NWN after just playing around with the single player campaign is totally missing the point. How many pen and paper RPG games do you know of with a DM and a single player? I can't say I've heard of any - yet that's exactly what the single player campaign is, and exactly why people blowing the game off so quickly puzzles me.

So after 4 hours of single player, I did the only sensible thing - I started replaying Shining Force.

Never fear, though, I've been able to play online with some of my friends, and I have to say that NWN is virtually everything I expected it to be, and a hell of a lot of fun. I'll probably go into it more next time.

Since I've been sitting on John's letter for a few weeks now, I feel it's only fair I posted it. I also recieved a few letters in response to the last column, so I'll use those as well. It's kind of like Strong Bad checking his e-mail, only I don't have super powers.

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E-mail Cameron
There's something amusing about an evil druid with a group of pet spiders, isn't there?
Checkin' the e-mail...
Oh no, John mentioned Linux...

Dear Tortolia,

You write the Logfile to track MMORPGs, Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, and Ragnarok Online, to say a few. But have you ever wondered where Kill-Stealing and Ninja-Looting originated? It certainly wasn't the hallowed halls of EQ. No, No, far before you could venture the Ruins of Kunark, you could Kill-Steal and Ninja-Loot to your heart's content in the MUD.

However, the world of the MMORPG now eclipses the ancient sun that is the MUD. However, there are a few things that MUDs do that MMOGs don't yet take into consideration. First of all, those problems about Ninja-Looting? Gone in nearly every current MUD code. With the advent of the autoloot option, players will take all items from a mobile's corpse after its death. I don't see any MMOGs with this concept. Secondly, there is a far more acceptable stance for roleplay on most MUDs. Most MUDs have an In Character channel, as well as areas to Roleplay in.

We can make a small tech comparison, here. In the world of OSs, we have Windows, and we have Linux. The majority of the public plays Windows, because it's better for their purposes. They don't run servers, or do anything that requires Linux, so they use Windows, because it's far more open. We can compare the MMORPG to Windows and the MUD to Linux. Linux's predecessor and base, UNIX, has been around for far longer than Windows, just as the MUD has been around far longer than Windows. However, the MUD is now only played by a small portion of the online gaming community, whereas the MMORPG is played by far more. Is one better than the other? In my opinion, no, each has their own redeeming traits, letting the other develop along the traits of the first. However, MMORPGs seem to have caught on with the general public. Like the zealots many of us are to MUDs, a great deal more are zealous about! their EverCrack.

In many ways, the MUD is doomed, it seems to have been eclipsed. However, just as UNIX is used by few and Windows by many, MUDs will always have their Place.

MUDs. Live Free or Die.

-John McCarroll
Contributing Previews Editor

For those of you who don't know, John's sort of our staff MUD guru. For the record, I have played MUDs in the past - I spent a goodly amount of time on Stonegate back in my junior year of high school, and earlier this year I played the month long free trial of DragonRealms - which, if were fully graphical, would be by far the best MMOG on the market.

Certainly, the fact remains that MUDs have been around a lot longer than any of the current MMORPGs. They do have a lot in their favor, too - issues such as hardware limitations, higher bandwidth requirements, and expensive development cycles are generally not a concern for MUD users or developers, while the ability for players to create new content for their favorite MUD and the smaller playerbases allow for a more intimate setting.

MMOGs in general are becoming more tolerant of some of the flaws (well, they're only flaws if you're the one being ganked). Ninja-looting is alleviated by code that prevents monster corpses from being opened by anyone but the killer until a certain time after their death. I know that Camelot has auto-loot code, at least to the extent in that it's automatic once you double-click on a corpse - from there, the loot is automatically taken and distributed to you and your party. Kill stealing has no solution so far as I can tell, and it'll always be a big issue, but for the most part it's less of a problem in your average MMOG. Why? The graphics allow someone to quickly look and judge whether a critter is being attacked or attacking someone, whereas in a MUD you're reliant on text coming onto the screen before you have any idea what's going on with things. Many examples of kill-stealing are misunderstandings regardless, but being able to see if someone's engaged in combat does alleviate these somewhat.

As for roleplaying, I think the reason that MUDs have more roleplaying options are simply that the player bases are generally smaller and more easily policed by the people running things. The d00dz in MMOGs certainly make roleplaying more difficult, but given the fact that most roleplaying I've personally witnessed is a tepid rehash of fantasy cliches, I don't see that as a strike against the MMOGs. The roleplaying segment of the populace is always going to be smaller, but the basic design of most MMOGs doesn't allow for much roleplaying to take place, aside from not talking about how you've got to go answer the phone or scratch your ass (or both).

Personally, as much as Unix or Linux zealotry bothers me (You're not going to topple Microsoft, cause some sort of massive revolution amongst the end-users, save the world, or get the power up and win the game, so shut the hell up already), the comparison is certainly an apt one. One area in which the analogy doesn't hold up, however, is that Unix tends to be much more application and server based, whereas Windows is much more flexible and varied in its usage. By contrast, regardless of whether you log onto a MUD or Everquest, you're there to play a game.

When all is said and done, however, the fact remains that MUDs and MMOGs are linked - Everquest remains very similar in overall design to the DikuMUD style, and famed designers such as SWG's Raph Koster got their start with MUDs.

It's not really my style of gaming, and I'd much rather play pretty much any MMOG instead of any MUD, but the options are there. We just don't cover them around here.

roofle pwned Bartle

With all due respect, that MUD Bartle test is nothing.

It doesn't tell one anything one don't know, and in fact it only reinforces the personal stereotypes one has for themselves. Take this example-

"Test: Are you violent?"

"Test Taker: Yes."

"Test: Results show you are violent."

"Test Taker: Wow! How can it be so accurate!"

Those tests only tell you what you tell them. Taking one is like looking into a mirror, no?


To be fair, I did state that the Bartle test was arguably pop psychology.

Still, it's not as cut and dry as you make it out to be. It's not about saying "Are you violent?", it's about prioritizing what you value when you play a MMOG. With the possible exception of A Tale in the Desert, if you play a MMOG, you are going to be somewhat violent. It's just a matter of whether you include arena duels or newbie ganking. It's not whether you wander out into the wilderness to hunt, it's whether you take the time to wander off the road to check out that cave instead of making a beeline for the best exp spot.

Taking the Bartle takes maybe two minutes of your time, and while it probably doesn't change your view of yourself, it could be useful in terms of figuring out what games to look into. What's more useful - wandering over to a game's official boards and saying "Will I like this game?", or saying "Hey, I'm a Bartle achiever/socializer, what does this game offer me in those areas?"

I'm not a Bartle fanboy or anything, I'm just saying it's a little less cut and dry than you're making it out to be.

roofle pwned Entropia

Not sure if you want replies to your logfile or not, but oh well, you getting one :P

Let's go in order, shall we? :)

Everquest...ah, good times. I took the test and came out being classified as SEA...not a clue what that stands for...86% Socializer, 53% Explorer, 40% Achiever, 20% Killer. I have to admit that the test is pretty accurate. I tend to get into chats with people around me and I can only slug through level grinding with friends in my group.

That's probably the major reason I played the game for over 2 years. And though getting the newest lewt wasn't all that important to me, it did feel good to get something uber once in a while. And since I pretty much explored everything there is to explore in the game (cept for some crazy uber places like sleeper's tomb and the like), that aspect died for me. Running from one end of Norrath to the other really didn't have the same appeal. As for my 40% achiever side, I guess it really didn't matter much after some of my closest friends slowly drifted away from Norrath. I still had tons of friends, but you know the few people you hit your "/who friend all" hotkey over and over hoping to see? Yeah, those.

Everquest, best MMORPG out there atm? Without a doubt in my mind. I picked up Asheron's Call, and though its monthly quests and such was totally immersive, it wasn't enough to keep me for more than a couple of months. Dark Age of Camelots? I'll wait to comment on that one a little later.

I honestly lost all interest in the genre to be honest with you. Why pay 15 bucks a month to horde crazy loot only to delete it all when you lose interest in the game? Is it really plausible to play one game online for the rest of your life? I mean, that's the utopia we all hope for in an MMORPG? The prospect of finding something so awesome that you'll enjoy it for the rest of your gaming life. That's why we fork up the monthly fees, right? And I don't see it ever happening, but I'm counting on you to tell me if you find such a game? ;)

Project Entropia...I've read up about this game, only because of the raid on the company. It looked interesting enough at first but as I read on, I found myself wondering exactly what you did...how do they make money? Then, I thought, "No monthly fees, no upfront cost at the nearby EB...they must make some serious cash from selling "their" currency." And I think you're right, the only way they could possibly make money is by getting newbies with too much money to buy their currency.

But now that I revisit that god aweful game, I'm thinking its a pretty dumb idea all together. I don't know about you, but when I started playing Everquest, I cursed everytime I came across a twink. Now, in Project Entropia, I get to run across rich brats with their daddy's credit card? Oh joy!!! I can't wait!! to gag...Can you imagine some level one newbie all decked out with the lastest and baddest gear around? ON THE FIRST DAY? Other than that...what's the point of the game then?

Finally, Dark Age of Camelot and Crafting...9 months later huh? Well, other than the fact that DAoC really blows, I thank it for coming out. Without it, Varent wouldn't have picked up their slack and get back to do some serious work on their game. And, honestly, Everquest has done an amazing job showing DAoC how Crafting should be like. I can't believe I wasted my money with all the hypers on this thing. Nothing good about this game IMO..other than the fact that I could run around the world a few times to see the pretty places...and competitive in the near future? How about right now :P

Yes! Letter good! Arrrrr.

I think that having friends to play with is definately crucial to the enjoyment of any online game. This is why guilds and larger scale chat channels are such a big deal - it's guaranteed that there's probably going to be SOMEONE to chat with to alleviate boredom, if nothing else. When your friends drift away from a game, particularly if you've done a lot with them, there's a lot less incentive to continue playing and try to find a new group than to just cut your losses.

Deleting all your loot is certainly something to consider with an online game - you're not getting anything tangible from your time. Granted, this is a flaw with pretty much any game unless you hit Ebay or Playerauctions. While the decision whether or not to Ebay is up to each person, and there's plenty of stories on the subject (warning, naughty language!), I'm of the opinion that if someone wants to buy your stuff, then by all means make use of that fact. I don't condone trying to make a living off of farming Everquest loot or anything, but if you've got some extra stuff that your buddies don't need, have at it. I still wish I'd sold my Camelot account, I probably could have gotten a decent chunk of change for it.

Still, the point isn't to make money, it's to have fun. Paying a monthly fee is simply the barrier to entry. Sure, I tend to play other games along with my MMOGs, and that costs money, but there's also a fairly large amount of anecdotal evidence of people who have gotten a MMOG account and stopped buying other games - in some cases, saving themselves a ton of cash. After all, paying $13 a month for Anarchy Online alone beats buying one brand new game each month for $50. It's also a safer investment - if you're still enjoying a MMOG, great, but there's no guarantee that your brand new $45 box of fun isn't going to turn out to be the next Daikatana.

I admit to not reading up much on Entropia's actual mechanics, though I imagine there's some sort of anti-twinking mechanism similar to Camelot's in play to prevent the scenario you described.

Lastly, there's one point I strongly disagree with - crafting in both Everquest and Camelot suck. The difference is in how they suck. Both of them are highly time consuming. Both are of dubious value. Camelot's main problem is that there's no real market for anything, though that's what Spellcrafting is supposed to help. There's also the Green Bar of Downtime. Everquest doesn't have that same kind of forced waiting (to my knowledge), but the main problem is carpal tunnel. You've got to do a LOT of clicking to get to the really high skill levels in Everquest trades - my wrists hurt just thinking about it (for those of you big on irony, Tweety now works at Mythic).

Anyway, in terms of the next best thing - I'm hearing very iffy things about Shadowbane, hopefully I'll have some first hand experience soon. AC2 beta hasn't started yet (to my knowledge). SWG still looks like the best option. Until then, there's Neverwinter Nights.

More Entropia fun
In a follow up to last time's Entropia news, apparently the players have voted - 65% of the Entropia beta testers want a refund of the money they've put into it.

I'm not sure, but I think that's a full refund minus the $10 withdrawl fees.

While some people are happy - the newbies who haven't done much with the game - the other 35% are pissed, mainly because it's not just a refund, it's a full character wipe.

In other words, the testers who have put a lot of effort into it and have gotten far enough to theoretically make money on the game have just lost that capability.

I'd get a warm and fuzzy feeling about the refund if not for the fact that everyone involved actually bought into the Entropia concept in the first place (or maybe it's the air conditioning in here).

Caveat emptor.

The Griefer Legions suit up and prepare to ride
Perhaps the most time-honored MMOG tradition is grief play. It's actually interesting to look at, because it's like Othello - easy to play, hard to master. Sure, it's easy to kill steal or gank noobs, but to do some of the more impressive stuff takes forethought and skill.

Perhaps the all-time winner of the Griefer Crown was Ultima Online. The early days are infamous among the community, because the designers were totally and utterly unprepared for the sheer amount of grief play that went on. I wish I'd witnessed it first hand.

Of course, as time goes on, developers have learned to limit grief behavior through both design decisions and strict enforcement policies. The days of rampant griefing are gone.

...that's what they'd like you to believe. No, I'm pretty sure they're alive and well. And when The Sims Online comes out, it's a fairly safe bet that it's going to be on a massive scope.

Picture, if you will, the hordes of Sims players. A great number of them not having any familiarity with online gaming and online gaming behavior. It's going to be a virtual train wreck of epic proportions, and it's going to be beautiful to watch.

On what do I base this? The fact that it's already happening. To the developers (the fact that the devs are getting griefed like this doesn't bode well).

What do we have here? We've got a player run event being ruined by another player. We have people basically camping the pizza machines for money. Grief stalkers. Streakers. Most amusingly, griefers gaining the trust of people and then screwing them over.

It's social engineering, folks, and there's not a thing the devs can do about it aside from only allowing a single character per account.

Of course, this leads to one question - where can I sign up?

Daily Radar Lives! I think.
In the "What is Wolfpack thinking?" department, we have proposed Shadowbane box art.

There are quotes on the box. One of which is from Games Domain. Searching the site for this quote yields nothing. Their Shadowbane preview was updated in April, so I can assume that the source of the quote was probably from an older preview of the game. How old, I don't know.

The other quote is from Daily Radar. Yes, that Daily Radar. The one that's been closed since last April.

Is it false advertising to put quotes on the box from articles that were written before the game even went into beta? I don't know, but Ubi is scraping the bottom of the barrel if those are the only good box quotes they can come up with.

Closing Thoughts

If my luck with finding good NWN campaigns to play through remains as good as it has been, I'll be ranting away next week. Hurrah!

- Cameron (tortolia@rpgfan.com)


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