MMORPG veteran Raph Koster went on a glorious Twitter tear last week, and I’m sure some of you can relate. In response to a thinkpiece on augmented reality, Koster argues that AR developers are worried about the wrong things – they’re worried about the tech and not putting sufficient effort or research into social systems.
“The essay skates over this in one paragraph saying, ‘It’s sort of like an MMO,’ but that’s wrong. It is an MMO, in every single way. Make no mistake, a mirror world is just an MMO server with phones as avatars. That means every social pattern you ever saw in an MMO will be present, from the WoW plagues to the client hacks to the parties killing monsters to debates over who owns what slice of virtual land to yes, harassment reporting and godlike gamemasters who effectively police the space with panopticon level awareness of history. Those servers will swallow activity, not just point clouds, to a degree beyond what people fear now with stuff like maps apps tracking your location.”
“Frankly, just about no AR people I have met grasp that this is what they are building,” he concludes, suggesting it’s a “terrifying” notion that developers aren’t learning from the lessons taught by games like “Habitat, LambdaMOO, Ultima Online, EVE Online, Second Life, [and] Habbo Hotel,” which already laid the groundwork for how virtual worlds work (and don’t) when players run amok.
MMORPG designer Raph Koster has a fun piece out today, ostensibly about what he’s dubbing “consent systems” in multiplayer games that include roleplaying — the rules that govern free-form roleplaying, like who gets to do what to other characters and whether consent is necessary. As most roleplayers surely know, it’s generally considered inappropriate to act something out on another character without consent. You can shoot a gun at someone, but it’s up to that someone to decide whether she’s been shot or dodges out of the way. You open your arms to try to hug someone, but you never treat the response to your action as a foregone conclusion — you wait for the recipient to acknowledge and respond. You attempt, but you never assume success.
The part that’s of interest to MMORPG players specifically is where Koster talks about formal emote systems in MMOs and how they can break that roleplayer’s consent code. For example, he criticizes World of Warcraft’s MUD-inspired emote list, which include things like massaging someone’s shoulders and slapping another player — none of which leaves open a response from the recipient.
Why does World of Warcraft go that route, eschewing the lessons learned from MUDs and MUSHes? Part of it’s down to improved graphics, specifically the desire to animate emotes.
Let’s face it: There isn’t really a huge pool of MMORPGs from the 1990s to explore in this column. By now I have done most of them, including some of the more obscure titles. Yet there has always been this one game that I have shied away from covering, even though it (a) was an actual MMO from the ’90s and (b) is still operating even today. And that game is, of course, Furcadia.
So why my reluctance? To be honest, I suppose it was my reluctance to tackle anything in the “furry” fandom without knowing how to handle it. I don’t quite get the fascination with wanting to pretend to be an animal, and some of the expressions that I’ve seen in the news and online from this community have made me uncomfortable. Thus I kept away because I was worried that a piece that I wrote on Furcadia would devolve into a nonstop stream of jokes to cover that personal disquiet.
But I’ve tiptoed around this MMO long enough, and I have come to realize that there is virtue in earnestly trying to understand a subculture that is outside of my bubble, even if I don’t end up appreciating or liking it. Casting off preconceptions and simple snark, let us take a look at this unique title and see what it has to offer for the larger genre.
Recently, one of game designer Raph Koster’s fans wrote in to pose him an interesting hypothetical question. If he were to remake Star Wars Galaxies today, the fan asked, which combat format would Koster choose?
His answer? Action combat all the way, baby.
Koster said that the environment right now is more conducive to action combat, even within RPGs. He cites a larger audience for such gameplay, far better technology than back in 2003, and different player expectations. “It would feel pretty alien to the average player to be in first person and not have FPS combat,” he writes. “This was one of the things that drove having overhead views in SWG.”
He does note that RPG elements can be used to make action combat more stat- than twitch-based, which has been used in many MMOs and other video games.
One of the best parts of Wurm Online’s Unlimited version is that players can run wild with their own custom servers, tailoring them to their every whim. That’s exactly what MMO gamer and Ubisoft artist Andrea “Malena” Fryer has done: She’s combined two of the best MMORPG sandboxes of all time into one by recreating the Ultima Online map in Wurm.
“The most nostalgic MMO players I know (myself included) are old Ultima Online players,” Malena began on the Wurm forums earlier in April. “So I’ve named the server accordingly and will do my very best to set it up, build and decorate just like good old UO. When the day comes that it’s ready to be made public, I hope you’ll share a little moistness in your eye, remembering back to the good old days in the lands of Sosaria!”
The project’s even won the admiration of former Ultima Online lead designer Raph “Designer Dragon” Koster.
I think I can speak for most of our staff in saying that in November when Funcom first promised a “major upgrade
to both retention and acquisition mechanics and content of the game to counter the declining revenues” in The Secret World
, no one expected this
Ditto in February, when Funcom said it was going “relaunch to broaden the appeal of the game through [a] redesigned new player experience, major improvements to gameplay including combat, [the] introduction of new retention systems such as daily rewards, [and] adjustments to the business model, including allowing access to the story content for free” — people murmured “NGE,” but no one even considered that the studio would dump MMO players overboard in pursuit of ARPG fans.
But in retrospect, the cagey language and lack of actual updates in the game were right there all along, as was the casual maintenance-moding of Anarchy Online and Age of Conan.
For this week’s Overthinking, I’ve asked our staff to consider Funcom’s plans here — not the rumors and leaks but the set-in-stone plans — and reflect on what they say about the studio, the game, and the genre on the whole. What do you think about Secret World Legends?
I’ve been a bit frustrated with Niantic lately. I love some of its ideas, but I watched someone else play Ingress prior to Pokemon GO’s release, and I noticed very similar problems between the two games after release — problems that the company should have noticed and corrected in its followup.
Recently I decided to try out the former. Both are totally unintuitive. You have to search the UI for the tutorials, though Ingress’ can be accessed only near objectives. You’re asked to join a faction sooner there than in PoGO and with no context beyond 2-3 sentences. The game throws jargon with little to no context at you throughout the tutorial, making it difficult to follow. I walked around, clicking things and used items that I don’t fully understand, not because I’m too lazy to read but because I wanted to understand a game without consulting google. I saw portals get taken without anyone around me as I stood by an objective near a government-restricted area where standing still longer than it takes to read “No Trespassing” could trigger security. I couldn’t get into it, not just because it was simple but because it was poorly designed.
Even though there are hundreds and thousands of MMOs spanning several decades, only a small handful were so incredibly influential that they changed the course of development for games from then on out. DikuMUD is one of these games, and it is responsible for more of what you experience in your current MMOs than you even know.
Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone knows what DikuMUD is or how it shaped the MMOs that came out after it. You might have seen it used as a pejorative in enough comments that you know it is loathed by many gamers, but I find that there are varying degrees of ignorance about DikuMUD in the community. What is it, exactly? Why is it just the worst? And is it really the worst if we like the games that can point to this text-based MMO as a key ancestor?
Today we’re going to dispel the mystery and myths of DikuMUD to lay it out there as it was and is today.
The MMO industry moves along at the speed of information, and sometimes we’re deluged with so much news here at Massively Overpowered that some of it gets backlogged. That’s why there’s The MOP Up: a weekly compilation of smaller MMO stories and videos that you won’t want to miss. Seen any good MMO news? Hit us up through our tips line!
This week we have stories and videos from Destiny, Eternal Crusade, Elder Scrolls Legends, Hearthstone, Pokemon Go, MU Legend, Lineage II, ARK, Ultima Online, Sword of Shadows, Ghost Recon Wildlands, Ragnarok Online, Heroes and Generals, Elsword, and Dota 2, all waiting for you after the break!
Even if you can overlook the expense, the current lack of games, the potential for nausea, and the annoyance of wearing a clamshell on your sweaty face, virtual reality has a looming problem: trolls.
Turns out that the same internet jerks who ruin online spaces and games via text and avatar show up to do the same in virtual reality too.
As MIT Technology Review wrote yesterday, part of the point of socializing in virtual worlds is to feel the “presence” of other people — but the very benefit that makes “virtual reality so compelling also makes awkward or hostile interactions with other people much more jarring,” such as when people invade your private space or try to touch your avatar without permission.
The publication highlights AltSpaceVR, a startup building tools to help people deal with trolls. The company has some of the basics already — like a way to make obnoxious people invisible with a block — but it’s also working on a “personal space bubble” to stop people from groping your virtual self without permission, which they would otherwise do because people are gross and have no shame.
This week on the show, Justin and Bree celebrate a couple of hearty MMO updates, argue about mandatory mount viewing, celebrate the soft launch of Revelation Online, and extol the virtues of the PC Master Race.
It’s the Massively OP Podcast, an action-packed hour of news, tales, opinions, and gamer emails! And remember, if you’d like to send in your own letter to the show, use the “Tips” button in the top-right corner of the site to do so.
Listen to the show right now:
In the comments of Andrew’s last Soapbox on whether or not Pokemon Go properly constitutes an MMO, veteran MMORPG designer Raph Koster argued provocatively against our writer’s statement that an MMO without a communication system (text, symbolic, or gestural) is no MMO at all.
“I don’t think an in-game communication system is a requirement for an MMO, or a virtual world either,” Koster wrote. “Consider an MMO where no one has chat because The Silence has fallen across the world. But everything else you are used to is the same… you’d still call it an MMO, wouldn’t you?”
I’m not sure. I am sure that the very first thing we’d all do is pile into chat and voice channels and Kickstart a chat plugin, not unlike the way everyone piled into ICQ and IRC back in the ’90s when confronted with online games sans global chat. People complain endlessly about not being able to chat even with enemies in faction-based games like WoW. Communication seems pretty critical to me, more than any other feature, miles ahead of combat, trade, or graphical avatars. Maybe it’d still be an MMO, but a very broken, incomplete one.
What do you think? Is an MMO still an MMO if it lacks chat?
Pokemon GO Generation 2 is out now, and it feels a lot like an MMO expansion in a lot of ways: We have new features, we have new grinding mechanics, and (of course) the combat system’s been overhauled (twice, with the original change making dodging useless, the second possibly fixing the situation).
On the one hand, I’m excited as a Pokemon fan, especially since it’s a free update. On the other hand, I’m starting to think that Raph Koster’s famous comments on AR games being MMOs might be a bit off, at least in terms of POGO.