Archive for April, 2010

Ain’t Misbehavin’

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

The other day I was playing Allods Online. I had a quest to kill a mob that required a group. Not wanting to wait in what could have been a very long respawn conga line, I formed a raid to facilitate the process.

The terrain of the area had a small but steep hill where players could stand on top and hit the mob with ranged attacks. Since the mob could not path to them, it would automatically reset. Players quickly recognized this exploit and used it to grief others. Soon the situation devolved into a profanity-laced 3-ring circus, with the griefers taunting the raid members, the raid members yelling epithets at the griefers, and the mob yo-yo-ing between the two. All of this in an effort to get credit for completing an incredibly ill-conceived quest.

Oh, did I mention that I was level 5 and this took place in the beginner area?

But this post isn’t about the game’s questionable design choices. Goodness knows I could rant about that for paragraphs. This is about the behavior of the players.

I felt as if I was wrangling a bunch of 6th graders on a playground as I tried to cajole and placate everyone involved. Based upon the amount of verbal abuse and general lack of emotional maturity exhibited, I wondered afterward if perhaps I was dealing with kids. And it got me to thinking about why bad behavior is so prevalent online.

Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade attempted to explain this phenomenon with his Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. Although the online disinhibition effect does account for much of it, I think there is also a generational component.

We have all kinds of social constraints in place to facilitate co-existence. We learn at an early age the consequences of stealing someone’s lunch money or lying about our homework. But our rules of etiquette haven’t caught up to our technology, which has resulted in a technological generation gap. Parents may be concerned about their children being exposed to objectionable material online, but they fail to realize that controlling their child’s own objectionable behavior is equally important. I doubt that many parents have the time or inclination to closely monitor how their children interact with others online. Many probably aren’t even aware of the significance of establishing some form of online etiquette.

It’s unlikely that a child will be traumatized by seeing a pixelated ass cheek. Bullying and name-calling is far more damaging, especially when it’s done anonymously. Until we create consequences for bad online behavior, or remove anonymity completely (which I am in favor of doing), 12 year-olds will be typing “gaywad” and “STFU” without any recognition or concern for the harm they’re causing.

Life Is Just A Fantasy

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Let’s face it – the fantasy genre in MMO’s has been done to death. No matter how stunning the graphics or how challenging the combat, inevitably you will find yourself lobbing fireballs at some ugly, and frequently quadrupedal, monster. Sure there are anomalies like Star Trek Online or City of Heroes. But overall, the total number of non-fantasy based MMO’s is pretty small.

For this reason, when Sword of the New World first released in the US back in 2007, I happily ignored my usual rabid skepticism and installed the game.

Based on the Baroque period of Europe during the colonization of the Americas, Sword of the New World: Granado Espada (did the developers expect to make sequels, or were they trying to meet their vowel quota?) promised a new experience for players, with a unique setting and the ability to control multiple characters at one time. The game even won the 2006 Korean awards for Best Graphics and Game of the Year.

From the game’s description I envisioned characters in powdered wigs engaging in fierce sword battles. Mozart-inspired background music. And quests involving the illegal export of rum or cotton. Although I wasn’t expecting absolute historical accuracy, I was hoping that the game would maintain the overall spirit of the time period.

Of course, the game’s developers took my expectations, stomped all over them and threw them out the window with my hoop skirt.

I could forgive the bad localization; I realize that good translators can be expensive. I can also forgive the fact that the “award-winning” graphics are the usual androgynous male avatars in silk stockings and female avatars with impossibly small bodies and large breasts. But what I can’t forgive is the complete lack of imagination in the quest story lines and monster design. A scantily-clad “girl” who lost her backpack in the woods? Giant technicolor chicken things? This is supposed to be an alternative to the standard fantasy genre?

Now, before I start getting hate mail from fanboys…errr…fanpeople in Korea, let me state unequivocally that I bear no MMO prejudice. If the nice folks in Liechtenstein were cranking out sub par MMOs in the same way that Korea does, my critique would be no less harsh.

At the heart of my ire is the fact that game developers, be they Korean or otherwise, are unwilling or unable to conceive of an MMO outside of the fantasy box. Instead, they just keep cranking out the same old tired tropes, over and over again, with different window dressings. There are so many other potential settings for MMO’s: The Wild West, ancient Egypt, feudal Japan, vampire hunters, secret agent spies. The possibilities are endless. Developers need to stretch outside of the accepted paradigm, and players need to be willing to embrace true innovation.

Move Along, Nothing To See Here.

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Disclaimer: This is not a review. If you like Mortal Online, please feel free to stop reading right now. Really. You won’t hurt my feelings. I promise. Also, this is not a “Leslee Plays” type of post. I’m not attempting to write a story about the game from my avatar’s point of view. Instead, this is an actual account of what happened to me during the first 2 hours of play.

Trust me, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Mortal Online is a new MMO by Swedish developer Star Vault. It is a first-person, open-world, sandbox-style game that uses the Unreal Engine. The “Unreal” part means your avatar is guaranteed to be uglier than a half-orc with a bad haircut and a Botox addiction.

Want proof? Here ya go…

During the character creation process your avatar is naked. This lack of clothing might make more sense if it wasn’t for the fact that the only customizable features besides hair style/color and skin tone are cheeks, eyes, mouth, ears, and 2 separate sliders for the nose and eyebrows. Yeah. My character’s junk is swinging in the breeze while I’m fiddling with the slider for his nose bridge? Must be a Swedish thing…

Once you’ve finished the creation process and selected your character’s ‘background’ (which determines what professions you have access to), you are unceremoniously deposited into the game world.

Did I say “deposited”? Make that dropped on your ass in the dark with nothing but a half-written owner’s manual and a rusty sword that you can’t figure out how to use. The game has realistic day and night cycles. If you are unlucky enough to enter the game during a night cycle, you must stumble around in the dark until you find a lit area. Or you fall and break your neck. Whichever comes first.

I eventually met a friendly German player who was willing to help me rather than using me for target practice. (Did I mention that this game is PvP-centric with corpse looting? Yeah, it’s one of those.) He kindly offered to show me the way to the nearest city where I could purchase a torch from an NPC. There was only one problem with this plan:

I never did find the city or the torch-selling NPC. Instead, I walked, and walked, and walked until the virtual sun finally began to show over a horizon. With no in-game map or compass I had no way of knowing from which direction the sun rose. Could have been north, for all I knew. There were also no road signs or points of reference. Eventually I couldn’t even find any fellow players – friendly or otherwise.

After digging around through several layers of poorly labeled interface windows, I discovered that my character had the ability to tame wild animals. This led to Gary the Attack Gazelle.

Gary was supposed to be able to attack or defend on command. Unfortunately, due to server lag or AI pathing issues, he couldn’t go more than 100 yards before resetting to his original position. I suppose I should have named him Gary the Boomerang Gazelle.

After a couple of hours of this torture masquerading as a game, I finally gave up. Although I can appreciate the concept of a class-less, level-less, build-you-own-destiny type of game, the complete lack of objectives, goals or narrative is incredibly unrewarding to me. Yes, I’ve heard the argument that this type of game allows the player to construct their own story. But without a more defined framework and set of tools for the player to use, the ‘story’ becomes more Homer Simpson than Homer’s Iliad.

I never did find a torch. D’oh!