July 2001

SULLON ZEK: SHADOWBANE GAINS ANOTHER CONVERT [Author: myschyf]

From the first time I\’e2\’80\’99d heard of Shadowbane, I was a firm believer in its failure. For one thing, the first time I\’e2\’80\’99d heard of it happened to be on the Everquest newsgroup two years ago; at that time, the PvE-oriented Everquest, in which the \’e2\’80\’98reds\’e2\’80\’99 on the non-Zek servers were already marginalized and on their way to extinction, was on its way to reigning supreme in the online gaming world and leaving the only mass market truly PvP-enabled game, Ultima Online, in the dust. For another, the game was too ambitious, promising almost anything and everything the fanboys wanted (and the fanboys themselves were so rabid that they turned many people away from the game by themselves.)

Most importantly, though, I felt that the \’e2\’80\’98griefer influence\’e2\’80\’99 would be too much in such a game, overwhelming all else, and that it would eventually turn out to be some sort of Diablo 1-style cheat filled, win at all cost slaughterhouse. Based on UO (still without Trammel at that point), the gankfest that Rallos Zek was rapidly becoming, and my own experiences as a PK and anti on some text MUD\’e2\’80\’99s, I believed that the mass market would destroy SB in one way or another- if the d00ds didn\’e2\’80\’99t get it, one uberguild or another would. The end result would be the same either way; the game would be a wasteland filled with the bodies of new players and anywhere from one to several dominant guilds, teeming with 24/7/365 powergamers, per world.

The next two years didn\’e2\’80\’99t really change my opinion. I\’e2\’80\’99d logged onto both Tallon and Vallon Zek, played briefly on both, and, even discounting the inherent flaws in EQ\’e2\’80\’99s horribly unbalanced afterthought of a PvP system, found them both lacking- the zone ganking, the naked mages (fortunately, now confined to Rallos), the bind rushing, and other grief tactics reinforced my opinion that the mass market could not support a PvP game. Asheron\’e2\’80\’99s Call\’e2\’80\’99s Darktide, the major alternative, was even worse; since shortly after the server came up, it has been almost impossible to start a new character on Darktide and get him into a PvP-ready state without knowing anyone, and even allowing for the exodus caused by the previous rampant cheating problems on Darktide, the community has slowly cannibalized itself.

So, why am I suddenly enthusiastic about the game?

Two words: Sullon Zek.

For the last week, I\’e2\’80\’99ve been playing exclusively on Everquest\’e2\’80\’99s answer to Shadowbane and DAoC- the newest PvP server, Sullon. My first few days\’e2\’80\’99 experiences, as well as the overall political state of the server, can be found here (and for those unfamiliar with EQ or its PvP system, the server rules can be found here); while the specific conditions will differ for almost everyone playing on Sullon, I believe that I\’e2\’80\’99ve managed to convey the \’e2\’80\’98feeling\’e2\’80\’99 of the server pretty well.

What I\’e2\’80\’99ve seen while playing on Sullon is a world that, while being incredibly flawed, has a lot of potential- and, more importantly, a lot of the flaws have to do with Everquest, not the server\’e2\’80\’99s concept of \’e2\’80\’98accountable, full scale PvP\’e2\’80\’99 itself. The teams are incredibly unbalanced- but that doesn\’e2\’80\’99t have to be built into a new game, and probably won\’e2\’80\’99t be. The powerlevelers still dominate PvP encounters- but Everquest is by far the most level dependent game on the market or close to release, and this will clearly not be the case elsewhere. PvP between characters or groups of similar level is still dependent on class (although the \’e2\’80\’98vital\’e2\’80\’99 classes shift from the cleric/warrior mindset of high end PvE) and resist equipment almost as much as skill- but that can be fixed, too (in fact, DAoC, whose beta I\’e2\’80\’99ve been in for several months, has been doing a great job of that thus far. Here\’e2\’80\’99s to Lum\’e2\’80\’99s and Tweety\’e2\’80\’99s success\’e2\’80\’a6)

Meanwhile, the server almost viscerally reminds me of the information publically available about Shadowbane every time I log on. There is no real zone control, in the sense that Freeport is always Freeport no matter which team owns it- but because it is the only place in the game where many evil deity/good race/class combinations can train in relative safety, it\’e2\’80\’99s a very good thing for the evil team that they hold it, because a neutral takeover of it would be devastating. There is a sense of accountability- the jerks and assholes who are busy training the newbie zones are already on so many players\’e2\’80\’99 lists that it\’e2\’80\’99s almost guaranteed that they will never find a decent guild, and with one character per account this is actually a punishment; this represents the first time in the history of the Big Three (Big Five, now\’e2\’80\’a6) that player justice may actually work, which bodes very well for SB. There are zones that are almost entirely safe from PvP and zones that are virtual graveyards; there are strategic chokepoints (mostly zonelines) which one or the other team keeps a watch on at all times; there are even vital resources, such as specific leveling areas, zones with quest components, or places with the best loot, that will (at least at first) be claimed by one team and defended from the other two. It\’e2\’80\’99s not Shadowbane- but the usual clueless newbies who inhabit the various Sullon web sites have already posted \’e2\’80\’98Wouldn\’e2\’80\’99t it be cool if there was a big rock in the center of Freeport you could touch to flip it to \’e2\’80\’98only evil can spawn here\’e2\’80\’99?\’e2\’80\’99 no less than half a dozen times. The feelings it invokes are pretty damn close.

Will I continue to play on Sullon after a month or two? Perhaps, but probably not, for a number of reasons. First, I\’e2\’80\’99ve been playing lizard shamans almost exclusively, and in this case, that leaves me very far away from any PvP (and just as far away from my guild, where I need to train and buy spells, should I decide to go anytime soon anyway). Second, being a newbie in Everquest for roughly the 8\’e2\’80\’99th time is only slightly preferable to being in a car accident, no matter what the server. Third, as I\’e2\’80\’99ve said, Everquest PvP itself is badly in need of a complete overhaul; the server rules go a little way towards solving it, but a full fix will probably need to wait for the sequel. Finally, because the server is so new, no one knows what the guild situation will turn out to be; every major \’e2\’80\’98see you in Shadowbane\’e2\’80\’99 guild, encompassing everyone from NWN\’e2\’80\’99s KAAOS to Vallon Zek\’e2\’80\’99s Shanks, is playing on Sullon, and because of Everquest\’e2\’80\’99s reliance on level in general and dependence on the high level game in particular, it\’e2\’80\’99s almost a guarantee that two or three uberguilds on each side will in fact wind up all but controlling the server. (This could, however, be solved in a future game such as Shadowbane or DAoC by reducing dependence on equipment and/or increasing the size of the world.)

Will I now give Shadowbane a try? Absolutely- because, no matter what Sullon\’e2\’80\’99s flaws are or how bad it will be six months from now, the first week has been among the most fun most people playing on it have had in a while.

It seems that maybe, just maybe, it CAN work after all.

Adar

DID WE PREDICT THIS OR WHAT? [Author: myschyf]

They have done that. On being informed that the WWIIo boards were more entertaining than the afternoon soaps (and filled with as much melodrama) I decided to take a stroll over. The very first post I opened had this to say:

Lately I have noticed more and more and more and more.. you get my drift… people joining the Axis.

A large number of annoying little bad mouth, semi literate, border line racists, teenage losers are filling the Axis side.

Now granted maybe some of these people are new to the game are are just joining up….. I do see that every so often and I like it. But, many of these people are from the Allies. I have heard this many time in the last few days: (Some version of this) I hate the Allies, they are losing, Axis rocks! Hitler 4ever! I am tired of getting beat every night.. and even worse things such as ‘I want to kill Jews’…blah blah blah…

I know I am not alone in this observation as several of us were talking about it last night in the game.

The chat/radio is now it seems an endless barrage of complete nonsense, horseshit, hate messages, racist crap, and just plain worthless rantings of kiddies that should have been long ago tossed over cliffs as to not polute our gene pool.

I know a lot of the defenders of this game (*cough*sirbruce*cough*) are going to come over and say it isn’t CRS’s fault, that recreating the war means having to deal with some ugly and nasty epithets, that no one really *means* it — they are just roleplaying! But roleplaying is not an excuse for racism. Only in online games, where anonymity reigns and you don’t actually have to look the person you are maligning in the eye and see the hurt and anger would people dare to be this racist in the name of recreationism. This isn’t about playing the bad guy. Bad guys abound and you really don’t need to hurt people emotionally to be the bad guy. I know. I regularly play a bad guy in my LARPs.

The LARP I currently play in takes place in 1937. Right before the beginning of World War II. Right now, the game is in the middle of the Spanish Civil War. Those of you who are familiar with the war know that Franco was supported by Mussolini, Hitler, and the Catholic Church. We have a guy from israel in our game. He has played a Nazi, swastika armband and all. But we work it out ahead of time. Any racism is directed at non-Jewish people playing Jews.

Black people were treated unkindly in 1937, to be gentle about it. While we do try to inject some ‘realism’ into the game, we do it by having white people play black people and directing the racism at those people. If we do direct any racism at all at our black players it is talked about before hand. Most of us can’t even bring ourselves to say the ‘n’ word – no matter how much in character we want to be. Because roleplaying isn’t an excuse for hurting people. Not in LARPs. Not in online games. Not in real life.

To be sure, there\’e2\’80\’99s nothing inherently wrong with running a WW2O fansite. Much of this current problem in chat is kids taking advantage of the free playing time, as opposed to the diehard German role-players, says BruceR, our resident WW2O player: most of them would prefer the chat channels be kept clear for actual fighting, he believes.

It\’e2\’80\’99s two different sets of potential troublemakers, with little or no common ground. We all know website upkeep, on top of all that gameplay, takes time. Now, if you\’e2\’80\’99ve got racist imagery on your personal or clan site, as opposed to off-the-cuff chat remarks, well, then odds are you\’e2\’80\’99re pretty screwed up IRL, too. But if all you\’e2\’80\’99re doing is spamming the airwaves with that stuff in game, odds are you\’e2\’80\’99re just an idiot.

When we brought this up as a potential source of trouble in the game, many people laughed at us or angrily called us names. CRS seemed unconcerned as well. Granted, they have more pressing problems at the moment, like trying to find players after what was arguably the worst launch in MMOG history. But by failing to take a hard line against this at the beginning, before release, they’ve perpetrated a problem that, by all accounts, is only going to get worse. Just having no swastikas, regardless of how many players want them, isn’t quite enough.

HE’S A SPEEDHACKER! BURN HIM, BURN HIM! [Author: BruceR]

Some things have gone right. The designers wisely took the advice of numerous sage advisors and \’e2\’80\’9cstopped the clock\’e2\’80\’9d on everyone\’e2\’80\’99s first month of free play\’e2\’80\’a6 no word on when that may restart, though one wonders how much more development can be accomplished on the box sale revenues alone, no matter how large they were. Two (reasonably-sized) connectivity patches did all but exterminate the infamous \’e2\’80\’9cflying tank\’e2\’80\’9d problems, although largely by cutting back on other functions. The first widely used exploit, the \’e2\’80\’9ctruck rush,\’e2\’80\’9d was also ruthlessly and efficiently nerfed.

And yesterday, the designers restarted the one thing that everyone wanted from the outset, the single, \’e2\’80\’9c10,000 player\’e2\’80\’9d multiserver world that all the aspiring pilots and tankers were going to zoom around in. Called, ironically, the \’e2\’80\’9ctest server,\’e2\’80\’9d the new one world was peaking at 1,600 players simultaneously last night, generally fairly reliably. This bodes well. And coming, presumably within a day or two, is the long-promised, long-awaited \’e2\’80\’9cbig patch,\’e2\’80\’9d which is supposed to bring the feature set of the game somewhat in line with what\’e2\’80\’99s promised on the box and in the game manual. If this even marginally meets people\’e2\’80\’99s expectations, WW2O may still pull itself out of the spin yet.

That is, if people can be just kept away from the official discussion boards and the diehard fans. Some of these people are so stretched out from this last month of mental anguish the developers have put them through, that they\’e2\’80\’99re about ready to snap. Take as a case study this weekend, which saw some of the real extremists launch a determined campaign to exact vigilante justice on a speedhacker. Unfortunately, like so many vigilantes, they ended up hanging the wrong guy.

It all started some days ago, when a fellow with the unpronounceable moniker of Dshsdksd, in an effort to protest the supposedly increasing use of the speedhack program Gear by ingame cheaters, posted a message with a link to the site of an Asheron\’e2\’80\’99s Call/Anarchy Online aficionado named Grem. Grem, you see, carries a neat little version of Gear, all zipped up and everything, on his MMOG fansite. Dshsdksd was trying to show how easy it was to get this program that makes, among other things, infantry in WW2O run very, very fast.

Dshsdksd is a long-time poster on the boards, and his post was, while obviously subject to immediate deletion, still an intelligent way of getting his point across. His subtlety was lost, however, on another earnest protester named Coolguyx, who in the wee hours of Monday morning, posted over 200 times in random threads a message containing the same speedhack link. A typical post:

What the fuck, what am I thinking anyway, they can’t ban me, this guestaccount is not my play account name\’e2\’80\’a6 Hatch, tell you what, I am going to post this speedhack over and over again until you guys START DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT IN THE GAME!

The aforementioned Rodney \’e2\’80\’9cHatch\’e2\’80\’9d Hodge, online community rep for Cornered Rat Studios/Playnet, did something about it, all right, deleting every Coolguyx post he could find (NB to Hatch: you missed a few.) and promising dark vengeance on the perpetrator — less for the speedhack link than for the spamming, apparently:

You went WAY over the line. We have the IP that you DID use, and will be contacting them tomorrow regarding this issue. I hope it was worth it…

Some other half-crazed fans, however, apparently missed that distinction. Convinced they\’e2\’80\’99d could finally strike back at one of those elusive speedhackers, they hunted down an email address. With some encouragement from Hatch himself, they urged other discussion board members to spam that \’e2\’80\’9cflaming bastard\’e2\’80\’9d right back. Only that kind of cybervigilantism raised eyebrows among a whole bunch of people, who had somewhat more trouble forgetting that annoying little stipulation in the Playnet terms of service about posting email addresses without consent. Wrote one flummoxed World War Two enthusiast:

Hmm This [Coolguyx] bloke probably deserves what coming to him however posting someones details in a public forum like this can only be described as the moronic act of a braggart\’e2\’80\’a6 Now we have started the public shaming excercise by publically announcing private details of the forums patrons?

Sorry. But its wrong no matter how you look at it.

Hatch your doing a good job and its heartening to know that CRS are still wandering the halls of this forum. But if you show bias towards some and allow the actions of others which are just as bad only wear different guises, it detracts from the very reason you are performing your mod duties.

Please delete his information. Be consistant in your editing and stop the “upset cause someone stole my teddy bear” posters before the forum really does turn to crap.

Even leaving the hypocrisy allegations aside, there\’e2\’80\’99s still one problem. The vigilantes GOT THE WRONG GUY. Well sort of: the email address in question belonged not to the annoying Coolguyx, but to Grem himself. And there is no reason whatever to believe that Grem (the AO/AC speedhack facilitator) and Coolguyx (the WW2O speedhack protester) are the same person, or that Grem even plays WW2O. (It\’e2\’80\’99s strangely heartwarming to think that there\’e2\’80\’99s a Gear-user out there at a loss why a whole bunch of historical recreationists suddenly want to kill him.)

In the end, the only one looking bad out of this is the latest potential candidate for the Abashi Customer Service Award, Hatch himself. Hey, Hatch, if you\’e2\’80\’99re listening: we know you\’e2\’80\’99re new, and defending WW2O is probably the Worst Job in the Internet right now, so here\’e2\’80\’99s a tip. It\’e2\’80\’99s probably a bad idea in future to let some fans break the rules in order to cyberlynch other fans who broke the rules, especially when no one involved seems bright enough to finger the right guy in the first place. Next time it might be better to follow the teachings of George S. Patton (Or Brad McQuaid? Same dif.) and \’e2\’80\’9cBan them all. Let God sort them out.\’e2\’80\’9d

For as the guy who started the whole mess, Dshsdksd, put it, without any apparent irony:

I just would hate to see some innocent guy who is hosting a speedhack on his site get in trouble.

LUM SELLS OUT [Author: Lum the Mad]

And now, the long version.

Well, we’ve been here before, haven’t we?

I know a lot of you are saying to yourself, “oh great, Lum’s leaving, the site’s going to hell, see you in Shadowbane!“. Thanks in advance. I love all of you, even the psychotic weirdos. (Hell, I think I sympathize with those the most.) I won’t see the comment thread for this story until much later (since I’m literally driving cross-country RIGHT AFTER posting this) but, well, since we’ve already done this once already I have a pretty good clue what’ll happen now. It’s like having your funeral before you die. And most of you will say something to the effect of “the site will be a pale shadow now that you’re gone, we’ll miss you” etc.

I appreciate that you all think I can turn a phrase effectively. I hope to do so again soon, and more to the point, put it in a box and charge you for the privilege of booting it up. It probably won’t be in DAoC since I’m literally starting from ground zero in a new industry. But when I was asked “what do you want to be when you grow up” during my job interview, I answered “a storyteller” without hesitation. It’ll happen.

Here’s the thing. I don’t want this site to go away. I think the MMO industry needs independent, critical commentary. I can’t do it any more. But that doesn’t mean it needs it any less.

So if you don’t think the guys I’m leaving behind are up to the task (and I happen to disagree – for one thing I’ve been training them for over a year now, if nothing else) please — help. Send in stories. Let them know what they’re doing wrong. Let them know what they’re doing right. And if you think they’re off base – and if you think I’ve always been off base – please, please make your own site and let people know what you think. I’m not being sarcastic. I’m not being snippy. More voices are good. There’s some other sites that do what we do. Some have been around a while. Some just started. It’s all good.

I don’t know, maybe I need to go stare at the sun for a while or something. I KNOW IT HURTS AND IT IS A BIG FLAMING BALL IN THE SKY. It’s been there for a really long time and I’m told it is good for you.

And now I get to drive off in its general direction. Take it easy and see you around.