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For the term "Shadowbane".

Nation States And The Social Ganker

This post was prompted by a thread on f13, which asked “is there any difference between open PvP and gang warfare?

It’s an interesting topic. Let’s look at it first from a purely game-specific level.

Ultima Online was pretty much full-on gang warfare, and I suspect the memory of which prompted this specific thread. There wasn’t a great deal of organization, and what organization was introduced (guilds, notoriety, order/chaos) tended to be ignored. PvP combat in UO could be broken down into either internecine gang warfare (two PvP guilds duking it out), vigilante action (PK and anti-PK guilds duking it out), or petty crime (PKs ganking helpless passers-by). (Note that this is my memory of UO circa 2000; I’m fairly certain it’s changed dramatically since.)

Everquest was, uh, broken PvP. If you remember, the original plan was to have PvP and non-PvP players on the same server, where PvP was an opt-in system that had you hand in a Tome of Discord and flag yourself eternally red. The problem was that flagging yourself PvP meant that you basically could not group with a non-PvP player (could not heal or buffs, accept heals or buffs, etc). Which meant that effectively, your character couldn’t actually play. Eventually, I’m fairly certain, resetting the status of players who mistakenly or were tricked into handing in that book as a “quest” became such a CS hassle that the entire system was scrapped. Asheron’s Call and Everquest both had “open PvP” servers which were popular, but also pretty clearly afterthoughts that would often be broken by patches to the “real” game.

Of course, there wasn’t a lot of discussion about social structures in the above paragraph, was there? That was intentional. With such a tangle of rules and bugs and strictures, any social structure was choked in its crib. AC Darktide had a pretty efficient social structure, but it was mainly gang warfare squared, with the XP chaining scheme helping to encourage a terminal mass of people joining the dominant gang.

Then you had the next iteration of games; Shadowbane and Dark Age of Camelot. Both took very different takes on PvP. Shadowbane tried to create a “guild vs guild” game where guilds would form into meta-groups of nations and fight over territory. In practice, the meta-groups never really took; the game crystalized into guild vs guild wars… again, gang wars by another name.

Dark Age of Camelot’s thesis was to ditch the open PvP model completely. Instead, DAOC channelled everyone into one of three sides and treat the other two sides as very smart NPCs. No trash talking, in fact, very little interaction between them at all. Personally, I think this is a very underestimated part of the equation. Without the social (or more appropriately antisocial) behavior in game, two very distinct and almost contradictory things happened; players in-game acted as opposing sides as designed – Britons would fight Elves on sight, Trolls would attack Highlanders, etc. And, interestingly enough, the interaction between the two migrated to message boards out of game. Even to this day, the VN board for a Camelot cluster is composed largely of “@CharacterName” messages aimed at trash talk or, more surprisingly and more often, compliments for the way a fight went the night before.

So, Camelot managed to avoid the ‘gang warfare’ symptoms to a large degree. People seeking out gang warfare – called “8v8s” in DAOCspeak, the moniker for a full group fighting another full group – were a part of the game, but not the majority. Most players could find gameplay by attaching themselves to what the “8v8s” would derisively call “the Zerg”, a somewhat self-explanatory term for the massive armies of loosely coordinated players looking to swarm over one another.

The next step up in PvP complexity released shortly after DAOC, but took some time to really get rolling. Eve Online is undoubtably one of the most punishing games you can play – it’s full PvP everywhere, even in the new player areas (you are protected by NPC police, but can still be blown out of the sky by a suicidally motivated PKer). But Eve iterated in many interesting ways – even more interestingly, not on the simple nation-zerg model of Dark Age of Camelot, but the virtual world model of Ultima Online – specifically, the depth of the economic model. Like UO, most everything of value in Eve is player crafted. And the game provides enough tools for economic manipulation that one could viably play the game as a day trader – not of goods back and forth, but literal commodities market manipulation.

The benefit here is sublime in its simplicity. A: Valuable goods need to be mined. B: You need to hold territory to mine those goods. C: There are no other rules. This swiftly led to D: The Carving Of The Map. Instead of relying on players to go to great lengths to defend the innocent, as UO asked, Eve asks you to, more simply, take what you want and hold it. Greed trumps altruism.

The Eve forums are far from civil most of the time (neither are the DAOC forums, really), but the passion is there regardless. Eve’s gameplay is still gang vs gang (note the meta-guild names like “Goonswarm” and “Band of Brothers” on the Eve map) – but the gangs got organized, they formed alliances, and they police their own neighborhood. Kind of like, you know, nations did.

And finally, the juggernaut, World of Warcraft. WoW’s PvP model is basically “DAOC, polished to a sheen, with instancing.” There, done, ship it. (Bitter? Moi? 😀 ) Not really open PvP, even on the PvP servers. But still accessible; and noticeably, World of Warcraft has far many more PvP servers than one would expect from the history of such things. Clearly, there’s a market for people who want to fight running battles in Stranglethorn Vale instead of killing 10 tiger cubs.

So, there’s the models extant today. What does that show us?

I personally believe that Eve shows what can happen with a mature endgame owned by the players. The trick is getting them to that point; something DAOC did remarkably well. But what will result, if done right, won’t really resemble gang warfare much at all. My off-the-cuff opinions on how to make that happen:

  • Lesson learned from Eve: a deep economy is critical to a deep PvP game. To the surprise of the Wolfpack guys, clearly people DO bake bread AND crush. (Sorry, everyone who didn’t get that. Long-running in-joke.) Economy gives you the skeleton of what to fight over.
  • Lesson learned from Camelot: limit the grief. (This goes against the lesson from Eve. But DAOC, and its descendant WoW, are a touch more popular.) Whatever you can do to “NPC-alize” enemy players, do so. Those truly motivated to exercise the art of the trashtalk will move it to the forums, where, in a win-win, it’s both content outside your game and easier for CS to manage/ignore.
  • Lesson learned from Counterstrike: skill-based PvP has it’s place. That place is not an MMO. The tyranny of a skill-based elite is only compounded by the permanence of the MMO. As seen with the popularity and success of the Camelot zergs, people can be successful as part of a massive team, but that success wears down if that team can be wiped off the map by 5 really super guys.
  • Lesson learned from World of Warcraft: item-centric PvP makes your game painful to balance. I can only imagine what gyrations the Blizzard PvP designers are going through trying to “load balance” arena matchups based on item loadouts. Plus, an item-centric game built on loot drops also tends to break your player-run deep economies – which violates the first lesson above. Item-centric PvP – bad touch.
  • Lesson learned from… well, my own delusions: context matters. It’s my belief that if you set up enough of a context within the game’s environment for nations to come together and fight for/against something, a core of your players will take it and run with it. This hasn’t really been tried yet – Shadowbane came close with its deep lore that the game systems tended to ignore.

What lessons would YOU add to make a PvP game more of a struggle of nations and less of a gangbang?

Search Terms Are Teh Fun

literary term 0ne word that means something different – “antithetical”
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absurd joke – Priest, rabbi, and imam walk into a bar. Rabbi asks if the wine there is kosher. Imam says “Probably not, and I can’t drink it anyway. What do you think, Father?” Priest says “Fish.”
blog +”internet is for porn” +point – I have no idea what you were trying to find, but I hope you found it here.
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experiment on curly hair to straight – the hell, you wound up here?
get cock in second life – Ask Joel Stein.
hardcore kathy lee – Nothing surprises me on the Interweb any more. You wacky series of tubes!
hoi 2 attrition – Well first off, it’s different in the Doomsday xpack, where you have to research Hospital techs to keep your attrition rate at roughly the same rate as HOI2 vanilla, which means the AI, which won’t usually research them, will have a higher rate of attrition. You can’t usually make much of an advantage from this, though, because the AI usually does a pretty good job of manpower management. Anyway, attrition is something you want to keep a keen eye of managing once your total manpower drops below 300 or so, because at that point you’re going to be hitting the bottom just from regular combat losses, especially as Germany on the Eastern Front; in fact Germany usually loses the war thanks to crippling attrition sapping its manpower to the point where formations start to shatter. Much like history, actually. Anyway, hope that helped you, anonymous Google surfer.
how to dupe shadowbane – cp -r /usr/sbin/shadowbane /usr/sbin/shadowbane2
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nuclear hoi doomsday – The AI generally won’t develop a nuclear program unless you use mods like DAIM or EmKeiEn. Not sure if DAIM countries will nuke it up or not, I know EmKeiEn will, but that mod’s latest version has some significant issues with nerfing Germany pre-1939. HOI2 and Doomsday both have vastly overpowered nukes, where a single nuke strike will devastate an entire region. Use this to your advantage!
pinball machine firefighting – PUT IT OUT PUT IT OUT!
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stevie “killcreek” case nude – It’s like a perennial search term.
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This May Not Be The Best Use Of Public Relations

Something Awful writes about how all the Web 2.0 lusting PR firms jumping on Second Life are discovering the joys of… Something Awful, would be my guess. Or, as CNet put it,

Unfortunately, as the interview was commencing, the event was attacked by a “griefer,” someone intent on disrupting the proceedings. The griefer managed to assault the CNET theater for 15 minutes with–well, there’s no way to say this delicately–animated flying penises.

Chung refused to continue the interview in the CNET theater but agreed to go on in her own space.

Once restarted, the interview was attacked again, and the protester even managed to crash the entire server on which Chung’s theater is held.

So the takeaway: don’t hold press conferences in areas where people can, um, conjure virtual genitalia to rain from the heavens.

However, CNet managed to move beyond the VICIOUS PR0N ATTACK and actually ask a decent question of the former Shadowbane guildmaster:

There are plenty of skeptics about Second Life who simply can’t accept that someone could have a million dollars’ worth of virtual assets. So how do you come to that figure?

Graef: First, you need distinguish between three different things: real money in Ailin Graef’s bank account. There’s no million dollars in any bank account now. Second, the value of Anshe Chung Studios. That number was independently assessed in August by (some) investment firms and was already clearly more than $1 million.

The third thing is the value of what actually is owned by the avatar, which is 550 simulators–some unsold, some with profitable business tenants earning money every month–and the far more difficult, to assess value of content, content rights and stakes in other Second Life businesses.

To liquidate everything without leading to the price of Second Life land or the value of Linden dollars (the currency of Second Life) dropping by more than 10 percent would require up to eight weeks. I am very confident in saying this because in February and March, we cashed out $150,000 because of our investment in setting up shop in China, at the same time that IGE sold off about $100,000 Linden dollars.

At that time, the LindeX volume and the size of Second Life economy was much smaller. Yet even such large liquidations of Linden dollars did not lead to any serious issues. The Second Life economy is so large that I would not be surprised if, in two years, somebody has a net worth of $10 million.

World of Warcraft Discovered By Mainstream Media: “Like Second Life, But With Orcs”

OK, it’s not THAT bad. Quite a bit actually to hit on.

Two clueless mainstream news stories, take your pick. From Slate: World of Warcraft is lame, because it’s not more like Second Life.

The most obvious thing to add is customization. The MySpace generation expects a personalized experience, yet Warcraft’s avatars come in only a few stock models. The men are brawny, the women are lithe. Although you can choose the details, you can never change your look once you’ve made your initial decision\’e2\’80\rdblquote you can’t even get a new haircut. You can’t post a profile or write a bio and, unlike in online worlds like Second Life, you can’t own land or even rent your own space. Adding personalization would reinforce the game’s raison d’\’c3\’aatre: addictiveness. Plus, giving players an ownership stake and a unique-looking character would keep them coming back for more.

The writer goes on to explain that its story and gameplay is boring, too.

New wars should break out, cities should rise and fall, and all hell should break loose at least once a month\’e2\’80\rdblquote and the players should be the ones to make it happen. After all, in a world that never changes, you can never make your mark.

Oh, if only someone would make games like that. Why has no one ever thought of this.

And then, from a Canadian newspaper: Can one find romantic fulfillment in Stormwind?

World of Warcraft is the granddaddy of online communities. On one hand, it\’e2\’80\’99s a sprawling, seamless fantasy, where you choose an avatar \’e2\’80\rdblquote a rogue, fighter, Mage \’e2\’80\rdblquote and go forth in this virtual world to hack, slash and maim your way to glory.

On the other hand, it\’e2\’80\’99s supremely social. Players band together, chatting incessantly. They hook up for virtual drinks at the inn, share a slab of wild boar meat. They dance, they have picnics in the woods, they even share a bed on occasion.

But do they love?

That\’e2\’80\’99s exactly what I aimed to find out in my social experiment.

I hope I’m not spoiling anything when I reveal: it failed.

Speaking of failing, people who insist on running World of Warcraft on Linux using a Windows emulator are getting banz0red.

And the folks who make WoWGlider (the program most often used to bot World of Warcraft) are totally getting sued, and are totally suing back. In SPACE COURT.

Just Assume I Made A Bad Pun Involving Bullets Here And Move On

Firefox 2 has crashed about 9… whoops, no, 10 times trying to make this blog post. I’m sure some will find that fitting given that this is a post denoting J. Henderson’s post mortem on Shadowbane and\’c2\~Wolfpack Studios. Wolfpack is now Stray Bullet Games. What’s the difference now?

In March, Ubisoft announced that Shadowbane could be played for free, with no monthly fees attached. Dahlberg said that could continue, though “alternate revenue methods” such as in-game advertising or even going back to the classic monthly fee are under consideration. Both present challenges to design as well as business, but Dahlberg said Shadowbane’s upkeep was “not very expensive right now.”

Oh, OK. So like Wolfpack, but without pesky\’c2\~things like “reliable income sources.”

Seriously, given the number of MMOs under development in the Austin area alone (I’ve heard mindboggling estimates like “around 30”) one more studio couldn’t hurt. It sounds like Wolfpack/SBS is moving on and making the MMO they want to make, with no compromises! It’ll be brutal! Only for the hardcore! Maybe they should contact some fansites.

Sorry, I just can’t turn off the snark today. Maybe if I could find a web browser that didn’t give me FIREFOX.EXE errors.


“I Can’t Bring Up This Server Without My Buddy Superfly”

The latest from John Romero’s exercise in REAL ULTIMATE MMO POWER is this:

Are you interested in joining our amazingly talented and highly motivated superstar game development team? Are you supercore enough to survive our hyperdimensional environment???!!

It’s good to see that Romero has learned humility and the perils of overly hyping projects that don’t exist yet. Otherwise I might have to make a new topic icon. JUST FOR HIM.

His project’s been announced for what, 2 days? And already:

What ever you guys do with the game, just make it so you can loot bodies, and pk without the BS. Kinda like Ultima Online back in the days.

And so, it begins.

I miss Shadowbane, don’t you?

Requiem for a Hurlbat

News broke this week that Ubisoft was closing down their formerly-known-as-Wolfpack Austin MMG studio. What this means for Shadowbane is inconclusive, but failing someone with an SGI in their basement swooping down and buying the codebase from Ubisoft (don’t laugh, it’s happened before) it looks like the game will close in a few weeks.

Shadowbane had a miserable launch and shortly afterward went through corporate gyrations Enron would envy, with the great majority of the game’s original creators being unceremoniously kicked to the curb. Those that were left did what they could, and you can be sure that at some point, I will pay them the ultimate compliment of stealing some of their ideas.

Still, it was a significant game in that it was uncompromisingly, legendarily PVP+. You could loot your enemies. Hell, you could loot your “friends”. You could burn down your enemy’s homes, sow virtual salt in their fields, and literally make it virtually impossible for them to continue playing (which, it must be said, probably did not help the game’s revenue model). I would argue that given the handicaps that Shadowbane suffered under for most of its life, the fact that it did as well as it did in terms of a loyal playerbase speaks volumes for the viability of a game that doesn’t treat their players as small children.

Sometimes, if you want a virtual world to have meaning, you have to trust players to make decisions about the world they live in. And threading the needle between empowering players to do so and protecting their play environment from being asploded in a fit of mutually assured destruction is… well… difficult. There’s some games that do that better than others, and not coincidentally, are being rewarded for it in the marketplace.

A game with PvP gameplay at its core won’t dethrone World of Warcraft as the King of All Media. But it can easily be profitable. And I’m sure we’ll see more of them in the years to come.

Until then, there’s always memories.