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An Ongoing Tribute to my own lameness.....

General random thoughts about gaming, both within and outside of the MMO genre.

Author: Jimmy_Scythe

FFA PvP Part 3: Tracks in the Sand.

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Saturday February 23 2008 at 4:48PM
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Have you ever actually looked at a sandbox? I mean really looked at it. Go to any playground with a sandbox and take a good, long look. Or, if you have kids, go look at their sandbox, pile of Legos, building blocks, whatever. Notice something?

What you should notice is how it's just sand with a few broken and discarded toys half buried in it. There are no sand castles, no messages or pictures drawn with a stick or finger, no trenches or roads for toy cars, there aren't even any footprints. Just sand....

Same thing goes for Legos. Yeah, some kids will make primitive little cars, planes and houses, but most kids don't bother when they already have access to Hot Wheels, Micro RC Helicopters and pre-built playsets like Barbie's Dreamhouse and the GI Joe Doom Fortress. Why make your own when someone else has already made it way better than you ever could?

That isn't to say that nobody gets the sandbox. Their are kids, and adults, that do amazing things with Legos and other Do-It-Yourself toys. But most of the time these projects are done individually or in small teams. There's only so much sand, so many Legos, so many building blocks, etc., to go around. In a public play area, the minute you walk away there will be someone there to tear everything you did down to use in their own project. In a public play area, there's going to be one big kid that runs around tearing up other kid's projects just because they know there is nothing that can be done about it.

And this brings us to the big problem with the sandbox MMO. If you let everyone play in your toy box, most people will just break your toys. Millions of people, operating individually or in small groups with the goal of finding the absolute limits of what can be done and accepted socially within the game. And when it comes to sandbox games, it seems that people will put up with quite a lot.

Just wander on down to The Sims Online or Second Life to get an idea of what a sandbox game can turn into. Remember, TSO doesn't have combat of any kind. I don't think I even have to discuss Second Life any further. But a Sociolotron level of freedom isn't exactly what most people have in mind when they talk about a sandbox MMO.

Most people are generally referring to games along the lines of Elite, Harvest Moon, Sim City, Sid Meir's Pirates! and etc. Notice that I'm not including games like Grand Theft Auto, Fable, or Assassin's Creed in my list. There is a difference between actually participating in a game world and just running from place to place in a never ending quest to check off another task from the "To Do" list. If you consider GTA style gameplay to be a sandbox then you have everything you could ever want from WoW.

Back on topic... All of the aforementioned games are considered sims, mostly of a business variety. I can't really think of any RPGs that actually qualify as open-ended sandbox games. The Elder Scrolls series is basically a first person fantasy based GTA. As is Fable and Two Worlds. It doesn't really matter what you choose in those games, you're still expected to save the damn world and your moral choices are only reflected in a handful of "good" and "bad" endings. Yes, you can continue to play Morrowind even after you've finished the main storyline, or even ignore the main storyline altogether, but game wold is static so you eventually just run out of things to do.

At any rate, the most successful sandbox games are single player affairs. You have absolute freedom because you're the only person within the gamespace. Add even one other person and your ability to affect the world in any lasting way diminishes by an order of magnitude. For those of you that play Animal Crossing, go visit a friends town and completely trash it. Now you've destroyed everything they've done and placed your own mark over it. Multiply that by several thousand and you now have what it's like to be in a sandbox MMO.

As of right now, there are only five sandbox MMOs that I'm aware of. These five are The Sims Online, Second Life, Eve Online, A Tale in the Desert, and Sociololtron. We've already talked about the three Ses, so I'm going to focus now on Eve Online and ATitD.

Eve Online is the spiritual successor to Elite, sans the twitchy dogfighting. This is a straight up business sim complete with diminishing returns. Right now, I believe that Eve has about 250K subscribers all on one massive server with a user count that has hosted over 20,000 people concurrently. That's pretty impressive all around.

Eve is also one of the few games to feature limited FFA PvP. Basically, the universe is separated into security zones and the police will intervene in 0.4 security space or higher. That doesn't mean you can't attack another player in those areas, it just means that  the local police will blast your ass to kingdom come if you do. Since the shuffling of money is such a big issue in this game, theft is actually and integral part of the game mechanics. Defending your more expensive assets, Capital ships and factories, from attacks absolutely vital and always requires a group effort.

That's why Eve serves as an excellent example of why the arguments in favor of sandbox style games both work and don't work. Yes, you can leave a mark on the game world. The catch-22 is that you have to work as a group to make even the smallest mark. As a result, individual contributions become further and further marginalized to the point that you become assembler #237 on factory line #BD17. Those that got into Eve at launch and stuck with it have all the notoriety while everyone else works on behalf of the founders glory. Since no one permanently dies in Eve, unless they're fucking retarded, there's never a power vacuum that needs to be filled by other equally talented individuals. Hence the iron grip of BoB.

On the FFA PvP side of things, Eve offers an excellent example of how it could work and why total FFA PvP wouldn't work. FFA PvP works in Eve because there are relatively safe zones where newbies can make money before forming or joining a corp. Without those high security areas, there could be no headway for new players. You would have to join the first corp that you encountered or get blasted repeatedly. No new corps could be formed because there wouldn't be any unaffiliated players of sufficient number to create an adequate defense. In short, you would have no choice as to what corporation to join or even the ability to form a new corporation.

Player driven justice would also be lacking due to the fact that whatever got destroyed would still have to be replaced after revenge was taken. Not to mention the fact that corruption would run rampant. Player A gets ganked and puts a bounty on the heads of players B, C and D. Player E then works out a deal so that he can kill B, C and D giving everybody involved a cut of the bounty. Afterwards, B, C, D and E go gank player A again and mock him for being such a naive, whiny little douche bag.

Moving right along... On the opposite end of the spectrum is A Tale in the Desert. There isn't any combat in this game. Instead, player build things. The more complicated a thing you want to build, the more steps you have to go through to produce it. This means that you can make sand bricks pretty easily, but canvas requires you to plant and harvest flax, separate the flax into something resembling wool, spin the wool into thread and then weave the thread into canvas. Did I mention that you're also going to have to make all the tools that you need as well? Yeah, you're going to need to make the thing that separates the flax (can't think of it's name right now), the spinning wheel and the loom. You can use other people's stuff to manufacture things, with their permission of course, but that's the "meat and potatoes" of the game.

The reason you're building all of this stuff is to pass 49 test individually and then seven monuments collectively. Once the monuments are built, the game restarts and a new telling begins. It's all basically a social experiment in cat herding. Take all the drama of being in a raiding guild, mix in the business management of Eve Online and you have the draw of A Tale in the Desert. More than any other sandbox game, that is more game than sandbox, you are allowed to make an impact on the game world. It's still takes one hell of a lot of effort, but no more than if you actually focused on becoming a key community figure in a small town of less than 20k people in RL. In other words, this thing can take over you life much more easily than WoW or EQ.

None of this is to say that there aren't griefers, but players are free to produce their own laws and the player of highest social ranking has the power to actually ban individuals that cause enough problems. Even Eve Online won't go that far.

Ultimately though, I think that people actually want something like ATitD mixed with player made factions and combat. The problem is that your actions are already marginalized without combat due to the law of averages. With combat, it becomes absolutely impossible to change the game world without being one of the few that were there from the start. You might be able to offset this with character aging and permadeath, but it's not that difficult to let your guild know that your starting over and continue running the show with a new character.

Making a single player sandbox is fairly easy. Making a multiplayer sandbox is easier said than done. Just tacking a sandbox philosophy to FFA PvP doesn't give it legitimacy either. I'm sure that someone will eventually get it right. Although that will probably not happen in my lifetime.

FFA PvP Part 2: How 'Bout Some Fire Straw Man?!

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Saturday February 16 2008 at 7:56PM
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So this time around I want to discuss the more common arguments in favor of FFA PvP and my replies to each one. This probably won't stop these talking points from coming up, but hopefully these responses will prompt the other side to attack the debate from a new angle rather than trampling the same tired ground over and over and over... and over... and over... and... over....

So here we go:

Carebear11!!1 -

Basically, he (and it is always a HE) is calling you a pussy. A straight up ad hominem attack spiked with a hint of misogyny. This rebuttal is actually falling out of favor with FFA PvP advocates, I'm assuming, because most of them have begun to realize how ineffective it really is.

Actually, I can't really gauge how effective this argument is because I'm not sure what it's supposed to accomplish. I mean, if living in your parents basement, not holding a job and never knowing the conversation, let alone the touch, of a woman not related to you is the pinnacle of manliness, then I think I'll remain effeminate, thank you anyway. It's just really hard to not laugh at a person who believes that sucking down twinkies and Red Bull in front of a monitor all day is an adequate indicator of masculine dominance.

I guess they're hoping that all of us "cearbears" will get pissed off, log into Shadowbane, Lineage 2, Eve Online, or some random olde skool private UO shard IN MASS so that we can get slaughtered and tea bagged for the gratification of these social misanthropes. Or, more likely, they want us to log into the solitary FFA PvP server of a more popular game so that the population spike will keep that sever from being shut down. In any case, this "argument" doesn't work and just makes the person saying it look like childish prick.

Risk = Reward -

This one needs the qualifier "for some people" added to it. For the rest of us, reward comes from overcoming a particularly challenging obstacle. When I finish a really hard Sudoku puzzle, for instance, I don't gain anything. Likewise, I didn't risk anything when I picked up the puzzle and the pen. The reward is purely the sense of accomplishment and the ability to look back and say "I did that!"

Every time I see the "Risk =Reward" cliche come up in a FFA PvP thread I always wonder why someone that feels that way isn't base jumping or sky diving instead of playing video games. I still hold on to the hope that one day, all of these risk = reward people will put their money where their mouth is and go jump off a high bridge...

... with a bungie line that's ten feet too long...

The easiest way that I can take the wind out of this argument is to propose an FFA PvP MMO where you purchase all in-game currency with real money. Even if we limit the amount of currency you can buy to $15 worth a month, the risk = reward crowd will scream "UNFAIR" in a voice not unlike a man that just lost his arm in an industrial accident. This is because they're all about reward. Risk? ...meh, not so much...

It's like Poker without money! -

This is a variation of the "Risk = Reward" line. What sets this apart is the not-so-subtle implication that playing an non-FFA PvP MMO is playing the game wrong. Never mind the fact that people play Poker without money, or inconsequentially small amounts of money, and never get bored with it. If anything, the addition of money to poker makes people more conservative and causes the action at the table to drop dramatically. What some players gain in tension, others loose in excitement.

Since PvE players are being accused of ruining MMORPGs, lets run with this analogy a little ways.

In Poker: regular players, myself included once upon a time, set aside money that is to be used for poker only. This is considered money that is already spent. Normally you have a poker bank limit, mine was $500, so that any money over that can be taken out, but once the bank runs dry you're done for awhile. In short, you never risk anything because the money you are using has already been earmarked as spent. You may gain something, but the risk is completely minimal.

In FFA PvP: Regular players keep extra money and sets of gear at the bank so that they don't have to do corpse runs to get their stuff back. Veterans will also immediately replace gear that they took out of the bank so the risk is minimal. Regular players will also use the fastest means of transport available and make bank deposits at the nearby town frequently so as to minimize risk. Lastly, regular players will work in groups with complimentary character builds to increase their ability to survive and / or pwn weaker players / groups that they come across therefore minimizing risk and maximizing reward.

Once again we see that the reward side of the equation is the real emphasis here. Since there is no mystery about who will win any given encounter, everything breaks down to logistical planning and one character's ability to outrun or corner a lesser character. Veteran players will always have more money, better stats and in-game connections. FFA PvP simply rewards experienced players with the ability to keep everyone below them down... permanently.

AI mobs are predictable whereas other players are not -

Notice that this statement is really just about PvP and not FFA PvP. You can already get this from many game both in and outside of the MMORPG genre. You don't really need full loot and the ability to attack anyone anywhere for this. You can get the challenge of another  player in an arena or through a duel.

If someone ganks me or offends me in anyway, I can kill them in FFA PvP -

So the most witty retort to insult is... murder? This is an appeal to the purely atavistic desire to beat the living shit out of someone that offends us rather than just removing ourselves from their presence. Trolls live on the reactions of others and attacking them just lets them know that they successfully pushed your buttons. To put it another way, if you let somebody get your goat they're just going to ride it.

As for getting back items that were looted off of you, good luck. The most common scenario in pre-Trammel UO was that you would gear back up, gather you buddies and head back to the spot where you were ganked only to find no one there. Tracking? You track them to the bank in town and lose the trail. Why? Because they've banked your stuff and logged off. Later they'll log on with an alt that will sell all your stuff.

Sure, if you run into them again you can return the favor, but that won't get you back your stuff. It also won't set them back that far financially either for the aforementioned reasons. You're basically fucked no matter how you slice it.

In a skill based game it would work! -

How? You're still basing the outcome of everything on stats. In UO you could only have 7 skills raised to grand master but that just meant that everyone had have 7 skills at grand master. If you have a 200 in "spork dueling" and I have 50, who's going to score a hit more often? You might be able to argue about a paper-scissors-rock relationship between skills, but that doesn't change the fact that you're going to have to max out any given build that you intend to play before you'll be able to hold your own against people that have been playing the game longer than you.

In conclusion: Skill based systems are the same shit as level based systems, just in a different bag.

Well if gear wasn't the focus ... -

Then you'd still have people maxing their stats as much as possible. The only way to balance MMORPG PvP, or any RPG PvP, is to limit players to making builds of a specific power level and taking out character advancement. Of course then you won't really have an RPG in the traditional sense will you?

But a sandbox style game... -

You'll have to wait for next week for the answer to this one. I'm going to need a whole entry to fully discuss sandbox games. I'll probably talk about more than just how they relate to FFA PvP, but since the two concepts are so closely tied together for many people, I'll just include that article in this series.

Until then ;-)

FFA PvP Part 1: What It Is And Where I Stand.

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Wednesday February 13 2008 at 8:46PM
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It's that time of year again, apparently, and we're seeing the resurrection of the FFA PvP controversy. The good news is that the FFA PvP crowd has taken to bumping dead threads rather than flooding the boards with the same old crap. The bad news is that the tone is still "elitist douche" cranked up to a volume of eleven.

For those of you that haven't been around the MMORPG boards for very long, FFA PvP stands for Free For All Player vs. Player. I can see that you may still be confused at this point so I'll break down the elements that define FFA PvP into a couple of bullet points.

  • The ability to attack any player, any where, at any time, regardless of guild or faction affiliation. This means you can kill a person in your own faction, guild, party, whatever. More extreme advocates of FFA PvP don't believe that you should have any safe zones where you can be safe from attack either.
  • Player looting. This is actually the key to the whole controversy. FFA PvP players want to be able to take everything from a player that they just killed. Random drops or losing everything that wasn't equipped is not good enough. FFA PvP demands that you be able to take everything that the person is carrying. It's bad taste to bring it up, but many FFA PvP players wouldn't mind the ability to butcher the body of the fallen for meat, leather and bone that they can use to fashion trophies from.

And that's pretty much it. People that advocate FFA PvP want to kill you on a whim and take all your stuff. This means that lvl 50 characters mowing down lvl 1s in the starting area is fair game. Corpse Camping is fair game. Team killing is fair game. Zerging is fair game. Any combination of the aforementioned is fair game. In fact, just about every activity that a normal person considers to be griefing, is fair game under this system.

Sounds like fun.... Doesn't it?....

In my own opinion, MMORPGs are horrible games for PvP of any kind. Whether you're using a skill based system or working with levels, it almost always comes down to who has the highest DPS and most HP. You can add buffs and pots in there, but the strategy is paper thin and can be worked out on a pocket calculator. It's very rare, so rare that I've never seen, someone display momentary genius by utilizing the game mechanics / elements in a novel way. To me this seems like the antithesis of competition.

PvP is best when you're on a level playing field, more or less.... I'm going to use Street Fighter 2 as an example since I believe that it holds a standard of competitive excellence that all PvP multiplayer games should aspire to. Each character in the game has specific strengths and weaknesses. Some characters are fast but weak (Vega), while others are very strong and slow (Zangief). Some combos are profoundly useless ( Chun Li's fireball), while others are an invitation cheapness (Guile's Flash Kick). The catch here is that all players have equal access to all the characters and the more skillful player will understand how to fully exploit their opponent's weaknesses while playing their own strengths. You see this kind of trade off in any good competitive multiplayer game. TF2, BF2, Rocket Arena, Starcraft, Red Alert 2, Advanced Wars, etc., they all boil down to game knowledge and clever, read: skillful, use of the resources given to a player.

MMORPGs on the other hand..... It's basically about who's toon has the highest stats and best gear. In GvG, it boils down to which side has the largest number of max'd out toons. In other games, skill isn't really something that you can calculate on a spreadsheet. If this were true, someone would have already made a mint off of sports gambling. With MMORPGs however, the game is just shy of actually being a spreadsheet.

So my stance is that I don't really take PvP in MMORPGs seriously because it has nothing to do with skill and everything to do with stacking the numbers MASSIVELY in your favor. FFA PvP takes this idea to the absolute extreme and is therefore even more of a joke. Why would you take a genre that's already horribly imbalanced for PvP and then handicap it IN FAVOR OF veteran players?

I'm not afraid of a fair fight, so I'll "PvP" in genres that were actually built for competition. Maybe once they make an MMORPG that has combat more like a fighting game, I'll actually check it out. BTW, AoC doesn't count since the combos are basically just placeholders for what would otherwise be hot buttons. The game actually walks you through combos during combat!!!

I'm making this a series of articles because there's usually a domino effect with this issue. You knock down one argument and then you have to beat the next dead horse in line and so on. I'm not really sure how many parts this is going to run so I'm just leaving it open until I'm satisfied that I've touched on all the bases and at least given a foundation to those that actually read this.

Next week I'll be discussing the common arguments in favor of FFA PvP and giving my own response to each one. Be warned: it's going to be a long post.

Until then...

It's Just A Game

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Monday February 4 2008 at 8:30AM
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If the game is fun, I will play it. I don't care if the art style is cartoony or graphics are on the low end. I don't care if the game is on a console, a handheld, the PC or the table top. I don't care who publishes it, or what kind of reviews it got. Most importantly though, I don't care what YOU think about it.

The reason I'm writing this blog is due to an experience I recently had in Gamestop. I was just browsing the racks and some guy came in and asked about getting a Wii. The salesman let the guy know that they didn't have any in stock and made it clear that he was being polite to the bare minimum. Being Surprised, I asked about the fact that their still weren't enough Nintendo Wiis to meet demand. After the man said no without so much as looking at me, the following conversation ensued.

Me: Well, I guess Wii sports is still a pretty good game...

Punk: I'd rather play the 360.

Me: I don't know, No More Heroes looks pretty cool to me.

Punk: Well, it'll take more than a couple of games to make me buy a Wii.

At this point I almost felt obligated to remind this asshole that no one gave a shit what HE would rather play. Sure, I opened the conversation, but it wasn't like I was asking him to join my cult. Did I mention that this guy didn't even glance in my direction. I was a Wii user, or at least thinking about buying a Wii to the extent of his knowledge, and therefore not worth wasting an ounce of human decency on. Sadly, this is an attitude that I'm seeing more and more in the "mainstream" gaming community.

At first I figured it's because dumbass felt that the Wii was for kids and he was just too "mature" to be seen standing next to one. I do see a lot of this kind of attitude as well. I mean, if they released  a "Barbie's Island Trampoline gymnastics" game, there would be a large number of 14 to 30+ plus males that would pass this game up due to the Barbie brand name and the pink girlie art on the cover. Those of us that are smart, would actually read the title and understand that the game is all about hot chicks on trampolines. You kind of have to feel sorry for people that pass up a good time because they can't see beyond what's on the surface. No cure for stupid though....

More often, it's not even surface appeal. There's some kind of almost religious zeal that people have about their own opinions. Think about how pitiful that is for a second. Imagine just how sorry you have to be in order to get stuck so far up your own ass that you passionately spew about how everything you like is the greatest and how anyone that disagrees, and all that they like, sucks at every opportunity.

Is the fact that you love Vanguard going to give you an edge when you're looking for a job? Is your Xbox Live ranking on Halo 3 going help you get approved for a second mortgage? Will calling everyone that doesn't play Eve Online a carebear get  you into Harvard? No. No it won't.

Even when I was at my most hardcore, between '96 and 2000, I didn't give two shits about what anyone else was playing or what others thought of what I was playing. I was too busy playing eight hour sessions of Tribes, Counter-Strike, Red Alert, Rainbow Six, Total Annihilation, etc., to actually concern myself with what others did or felt. Sure, if someone else asked about my opinion I would gladly give it, but it wasn't like I saw a person in a different light if they didn't agree with me.

I have images in my head right now of William Shatner on Saturday Night Live telling a group of trekies to "get a life" because "it's just a TV show." I kinda feel the same way about games. It's my hobby, not my lifestyle. If someone doesn't like the same things I do, it doesn't invalidate my entire world view.


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