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An attempt at MMO analysis, computation, and philosophy. Why MMOs are what they are, and how to get beyond that.

Author: jawapet

Alternative Operating Systems

Posted by jawapet Tuesday October 7 2008 at 2:36PM
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Windows has dominated the OS market for many years.  Mac has always placed a not so close second.  Followed firmly be the Linux and Unix crowds.  Make no mistake Microsoft Windows, although large, is NOT the best.  But because of its size and exclusivity clauses it has remained at the zenith of the computer industry around the world.

Obviously Microsoft isn't some evil giant that needs to be toppled.  Microsoft has stayed on top its game because of dynamic marketing and because it can keep its customers satisfied.  People are generally happy with Windows despite its flaws.  Almost any program can run on Windows and Windows can adapt itself to any user, from the "PC" consumer to the large financial business institutions.  Versatility is a key to their success.  But there exists one group on individuals who have supported Windows power more then any other group, and that group is the gamers. 

Personally I love Windows and will use Windows in some form for my entire life.  But I also don't want to be limited to just having windows, or having to have Windows just to run software.  I dual boot OSX Leopard on one of my computers, and will probably use Snow Leopard when I get the chance.  As well I also use a wide variety of other OSes.  As a gamer I understand the importance of what Windows and MS has done to the gaming industry.  As well I respect their business practices.  But sometimes I feel that my needs in an operating system are not being properly met.  This has become an issue as of late with the support stop on Windows XP and the push to move to Vista.  I have moved to Vista on system, and although it has improved drasticly since its release I still don't want to move any other computers to it, and it seems that 79% of you agree with me.

For gamers there is a chicken and the egg type question that resounds the symbiotic relation between the gamer community and the Windows world.  The first argument goes like this: "Windows is a success because gamers want games and most games only run on windows.  Without the gamers windows would severe revenue and maybe even drop from its number one spot." To which the second argument is: "Windows is not a success because of windows.  Not everyone who buys windows plays games, most do not.  Games and gamers rely on windows success from other aspects to allow for advancing performance and graphics.  Gamers exists because Windows is a success. ( View argument in detail here. ) And although both arguments are pretty well sound I believe that both miss the point entirely.  The fact remains most games are sold exclusively on Windows.  And thus any other OS will need the gaming communities support if it is to succeed and enter the mainstream market as a true competitor.

What amazes me is that many independent software companies have taken on large leadership roles in the computer industry.  Adobe, for instance, considers itself 'god' amongst the visual design industry, having the power to change the way we take and process images at the click of their fingers (and yes they have used that power before).  Firefox 3 (FF3) has grown to be considered by many the best web browsing experience on the net, with over 8 million international downloads in the first 24hrs of launch, setting a world record.  Even smaller lesser known companies like Opera have made major advancements that have echoed through even Microsoft.  Antivirus companies are now as diverse as the viruses they fight with products like AVG and Avast.  Yet the OS world has remained dominated by a single organization.

There are alternatives to Windows.  The first two that come to mind are the obvious Mac OSX and Linux, but besides these two their are many smaller OSes that are making grand strides to compete, not only in performance, ingenuity.  Here are some top alternatives operating systems that I would like to mention.

AmigaOS 4.1 (released September 2008)

There exist some fond memories for some of the early Amiga system developed originally for the Commodore 64 systems, as well as several other computers.  However in the long term Amiga sis not develop as quickly as Windows and Mac and thus was left behind after the 32bit revolution, yet as we come upon a new revolution with the development of 64bit it once again has the opportunity to move forward.  4.1 has stayed current with programming codes and 3D rendering technologies based on OpenGL.  It is in the market place and more largely used in Europe then anywhere else.  It does have it's pitfalls however and would require some different development to be utilized for gaming, however the potential is there if given the proper push to become a competitive OS alongside Windows and OSX.

ReactOS (released August 2008)

ReactOS took a different approach to solving the software compatibility issues.  ReactOS uses NT as a basis for the development of its OS (much like how Gates used Apple as a Basis for Win 3.x).  Thus most software the run on Windows will run on ReactOS.  ReactOS itself prides itself in being a freeware OS, but because of legal issues with using Windows NT (the basis for Windows XP and Vista) has kept it in alpha testing, forcing developers to code and recode in order to avoid legal detriment.  But given enough support would be able to produce an OS that would run games equal to or better then current Windows software.

MorphOS (updated September 2008)

Morph is a lightweight media oriented OS system.  Designed to run on PowerPC chipsets.  It was inspired by the AmigaOS and thus is designed to compete with it.  Unlike Windows OSes that focus on becoming more robust and taking up as much room on a PC as possible Morph is designed to be small, extremely small.  It is designed to a be a little power house letting application take up system resources rather then the OS these means a smaller computer can process more and run faster.

SkyOS (beta update August 2008)

SkyOS is probably one of the most promising OSes out there.  Robert Szeleney, as an expirement with operating design, developed it.


Current development is focused on a complete rewrite of the kernel in an attempt to bring legacy code up to par with the rest of the system.  It attempts several different new looks and functions for an OS and has a great fan base which tests his twice-monthly releases of the beta.  The beta itself is a paid beta that promises those participants a free copy of final release when the project is done.  However Robert himself has been working alone on the project in between his real job and thus it has taken him since 2004 to get the project to where it currently is.  However he does have support from companies like Mozilla (maker of FF3).  SkyOS is one of the most fascinating independent operating systems out there, and if given the opportunity promises to compete head to head with Windows.

Other OSes and variations there of.

Other operating system include Syllable, Haiku, etc.  Among a new trend in operating system development is something called WebOS or VOS (Virtual Operating System).  VOS are operating systems without the physical computer, well at least in theory.  They work generally through either an application or a web browser.  They use server space on their end to create a virtual hard drive and load application through virtual software.  The result is this: access your desktop from anyone's PC (who has internet) load word document, excel spreadsheets, play games, and even check email all from anywhere.  I use because it provides mobile allowing me to access a virtual computer from my cell phone as well as anyone's computer.

What these operating system really lack is a support from the gamer community a support for them to support more games, to work with more companies.  As well to put pressure on gaming companies to open themselves up to more operating systems.

Now a big question to this is why?  Why should we care why should we reach out, especially as a community, and support another OS rather then relying on Windows?  Competition breeds advancement.  The more choices that are available in the mainstream the more competition exists.  If you have a 1000 products competing for you to use they will all try to make themselves as cheap as possible and as high of quality as possible.  Prices go down quality goes up.  This means crashes, bugs, and even the high price of investing in an OS will decrease.  New technologies and ideas will take the forefront and produce new and better programs and software.  As a whole the gaming community can create a driving force that will elevate new ideas into the market place causing current ideas to adapt or die.  Thus the industry will move forward.  For those who are happy with where you are at I am truly glad, but I don't want to be satisfied I want to progress.

As gamers we are stuck.  We are limited to being with Windows if we want the majority of games.  Yes some are available in limited numbers on Mac and Linux, but to fully play everything we want we are left in a stagnant pond.  Microsoft sees gamers as a trapped audience and thus does not put as much attention towards us as it does business professional and .com junkies.  The type of things that can be accessed from any computer.  We as a community have been underestimated and put into a back seat position.  We thrive on innovation in the gaming world, yet are ignored in the OS world.  This in general haults the advancement of games.

Many will argue that their isn't room or need for another operating system in the current market.  Others may argue that the idea is futile, or that MS better then anything any other company could produce.  Maybe that the argument of operating systems in irrelevant to the gaming community.  As long as that is the way they feel that will be true.  It requires a change in ideals to move forward.

Support the underdog and they will grow, and be ontop.  Not anyone company has the right idea, although many have better ideas.  I support innovation and would like the opportunity to play on more on alternative operating systems, but obviously don't get the chance. 

Windows itself is moving forward, due to a huge out cry from Vista adopters Windows has speed up the research and development of Windows 7, which unofficial release date for is June 3, 2009 (they have said release will be by or before January 1, 2010).  Windows 7 will incorporate more 64bit support but won't leave 32bit support behind.  As well it will probably support new firewire and USB 3.0 protocal for faster data transfer.  MS has also said that it will ship as just the OS, not any of the extra trimmings, although many of them will be available for free download to 7 subscribers.  Basicly they are trimming VIsta back to stabilize the OS and to improve functionality.  This means they will try to produce a good product, not a big product.  A lot of this is due to Vista churn back to XP and even some to Leopard which has been labeled the best OS on the market currently.  Leopard itself and the development of OSX will also push forward to Snow Leopard.  Snow Leopard will be pure 64bit support leaving 32bit behind in an attempt to push consumers forward.  Obviously MS has learned from its mistakes and hopes to appease the market, while Apple has become the driving voice for advancement.

But honestly would it not be so surprising to see a new competitor step up.  A new OS that has learned from Windows mistakes and has the motivation to compete.  An OS that will cross platform itself, and open up the net without slow down your comp.  In any case a new front runner will NEED the support of a large portion of gamers in order to make.  I for one am ready to give that support.  If one of these or any other OS reaches out to the gamers they will have my support. 

But here in is another problem many companies don't realise the power of the gaming community.  Maybe it's just coincidence that MS sales of Windows are proportional to how many gamers they have.  Although I am not the biggest of Mac fans, if they for a moment tried push for more games on their systems there would be a shift, although small at first, of users turning to Mac.

The big thing that I am getting at is I want more options when choosing an operating system.  I feel like this limitation for gamers is stunting the growth of newer ideas.  I also feel like it's holding the whole computer industry back.  Maybe I'm wrong, its hard to say at this juncture, and we probably won't know for certain till 40 years from now.  But as I am I will support and continue to support new innovative OS, as well encourage everyone to support it as well.

Bartle Test, why players need to take it

Posted by jawapet Thursday October 2 2008 at 3:03PM
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Otherwise known as the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology is a test designed by Richard Bartle to keep track of gamers and, more importantly, track gamer types.  It is important because more and more companies are relying on the Bartle Test for to develop games for specific gamer types, as well they tend to develop more games for the gamer type that is the most prominate.  The test is a series of questions that are asked to a player, their reaction help gauge how they view the games they play.  It is broken down into 4 distinct areas  Achievement, Exploration, Socialization, and Killing.  According to Barlte each type is assigned a symbol resembling those in card games.  Each player has a different impact on how they play the game.  To many people their is simply n00bs and 1337s.  But certain people act certain ways in a game because of their play style and how the game responds to that play style.

The following is going to be a brief rambling of the different styles and what they represent.

Achiever (Diamonds)

These players across in several different ways.  In a more single player or solo enviroment these are the players who believe that every game can beaten, not only that, but that it can be beaten in a glorious way that allows them to unlock every unique armor set, special weapon, upgrade funciton, and title.  In an MMO world these players come across as the powerleveler or the uber leetists.  They enjoy attaining something that no other playr in the game has.  Their ideal is to rank higher then anyone else in guilds and team play.  They are often very competitive, although they despise other achievers for trying to out do them.  They seek praise from socializers who will spread the wow factor of what they have done.  This type is also rather big into bragging about what they've done on forums or through other outlets.  They like to show off and occasionaly get into trouble for it.  They are commonly labeled 'hardcore players'.

Explorers (Spades)

They do it everywhere.  Explorers are, for lack of a better definition, 'content whores' they love peeking into new areas checking out parts of the game other players don't often go through.  At a low level you will ocmmonly see this type running through areas where they can get easily clobbered.  They also tend to pay attention to the storyline more then other players.  They love discovering glitches and easter eggs and are often frustrated when the game forces them to move along a single linear path. They love solving puzzles and usually feed the socializers by sharing their knowledge and outlook on the game at hand.  They often despise killers, as they slow the exploration process.  Commonly labeled as 'RPers' (even if they aren't) or at least game savy.

Socializers (Hearts)

The chatterbox of the game.  This type often does not do well in single player or solo parts of a game, and instead thrives on groups and guilds.  They tend to chat up a storm even if they have no idea what they are talking about.  They take advantage of every aspect of MMO communication; quickly filling friendslists, chatting up big guilds, telling stories in groups, and even insisting on use of vent or voicechat for everything.

Killers (Clubs)

Killers are what their name implies, killers.  They thrive in PvP content often finding themselves showered in blood.  They love destruction and enjoy games where vandalism and pain thrive.  They hate playing the way of the good guy, protecting the innocent cart of villagers, and would prefer to be the bandits trying to rob it.  For many its sport, the idea of reading and competing against another real opponent not just an NPC. For others its about hurt often 'ganking' their way around in low level areas slaughter the newbies in their unprepared state.  They love the idea of KoS and often thrive as being known as the bad-ass, someone to stay away from.

All four of these components are placed into a percentage, with no one percentage dominating 100% be the total of all percentages equaling 200%.  the letters A, E, S, and K are then arranged in descending order to indicate a code as to what each individual player type a person is.  As an example I am an EASK.  I enjoy exploring areas but also like to achieve alot in the game as well, and while I do socializing I often find myself more comfortable in a smaller group or even soloing.  I tend to stay away from PvP although I will enjoy it from time to time.

Now like I have mentioned before, game companies are using this template to design games for specific player types.  The more players that take the test the more information becomes available to these designers and the better the chances of seeing what type of game you like on the market.

Now to be honest the Bartle test doesn't cover every aspect of the game, and, although it is the most popular gamer psychology test, it is often parred with other psychological tests to create scpecific games. 

Now how this applies to players is this.  Be proud of who you are in a game, share your Bartle Results start stating with confidence your Bartle letter code.  Put yourself out their to game companies that I am a ---- and I am interested in the games you make.  I would go so far as to call out for an Bartle week where every subscriber is encouraged to take the bartle test, share their results and even display it in forum posts or in signature banners.

It is only by encouraging companies to invest in the players that we can continue to see growth in the gaming industry.  By growth I mean proper development, development of games that does cause most of the players to hate the game after the first day of release.  And to create a game that allows the players themselves to continue to grow and evolve as players and to become more involved with the games they play.

Moving beyond the basics

Posted by jawapet Tuesday September 23 2008 at 4:11PM
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Ok you have all heard it before: "Game X is like WoW because" or "WoW is better then Game X because". Now I have very little against WoW (although nothing against WoW would be impossible) but WoW was not the first MMO nor was it the most original, nor (once again) is it the center of the MMO world.

The term MMO was coined by Richard Garriott for use in describing Ultima Online making UO the first MMO. Since the terms creation, subsequant use, and expansion of games defined under this genre several leap to the forefront of truly defining the MMO (for lack of a better word) style. Among the early innovators where Meridian 59, The Realm Online, and Ultima Online. However it was a beautiful day March 16, 1999 when EverQuest first brought forth the modern MMO to western culture.

After EQ the MMO world lept forward with the development of game like MapleStory, FFXI, and yes even WoW. But to truly deconstruct MMOs we must first find a way to break them apart. Categorization has been used before to track MMO players and their play styles. Among these the Bartle Test is the largest and most popular for studying MMO players. It simply asks players question and breaks down their answers by play style. There are four categories Explorer, Socializer, Killer, and Acheiver. Out of a possible 200% each category is assigned a percent based on the answers given and then placed in descending value. As an Example I like Exploring, then Acheiving, then Socializing, and not much into PvP so low on Killing. I am an EASK style player. But this study is more for players then for the games themselves. So...

...MMOs have several things in common with one another, traits that are commonly shared between other MMOs. The first of these is Theme. Theme is shared between MMOs and most usually focus on a fantasy setting although others have emerged like Sci-fi, Sports, and even Super Hero. Most people define these as a genre or (really) a sub genre of MMOs. And although some players cross between these sub-genres many still limit themselves to one and then point out the similarities in games of that same sub-genre.

Progression is another shared element. Progression is done in several ways the most popular of these is leveling, or a leveling system. While some games do without this particular device most tend to stick to the idea that a player advances through a game, both in story and content, by leveling up and then moving on (although the option to return to past areas of the game is usually possible in most games). Some games move progression through loot or items, aka I kill X amount of stuff in PvE/PvP I get an awesome helm. As well some games use trees and development of skills with in these trees as progression, aka lvls are less important then learning new skills and tactics. Still other games use storyline as primary game progressor, a good example of this is GW and the GW mission system.

Like wise social interaction of some form must be available in these games, other wise they woould simply be O-RPGs. Although the degree of how social intereactive we are varies not only from game to game but from player to player with in the game. Thus we have developed such terms as Soloer, Guildies, and even ZERG!.

In and of themselves each game creates from these a unique culture of play. This becomes the games image and this is what is usually most compared between games.

However we can break this down even further. MMOs usually focus their main play in one of four areas, although they are not restricted to one area they tend have more in common with one area. PvP is one of these areas, but PvP itself can be applied in a number of ways from structured arena PvP to FFA PvP to something in between line storyline driven battlelines PvP. So if we take initially PvP out we are left with three major points shared between games. They are Storyline driven content/Lore (this is usually the part that quests relate to), Role-playing (this usually refers to how removed you feel from your own world into the games world), and finally the Grind (endless killing of monsters: fun but only in moderation). Ideally a game would try to balance all of these elements to create the best playing system, the problem with this being that every players definition of these, and in what amounts, varies. This makes extremely hard for a game to create the "Perfect Game".

If we try to graph this we come up with a triangle. All game fit somewhere inside this triangle some drifting closer to one point then another. If we add back in the PvP element we end up with a pyramid. With all hacing their own little niche inside the pyramid. This gives us a comparitive for each game available on the market. Like wise we see what points of the game are common to others.

Just about every MMO has some similar points. From UI to classes to races to controls.

UI is a commonly shared point between MMOs. Most have some sort of skill bar to keep track of skills being used (or macros) like wise a way to keep track of health and energy. Likewise, while grouped you can usually keep track of other health and/or energy. Most give you can experience bar that tells you how far along in the progression of the game you are. Pop-up screens include Maps, a Quest Log, and usually a character load out screen of somesort.

Controls, related to UI, usually have some sort of walking mechanism whether it be WASD or click to move or someother way. A hailling mechaism to interact both with objects and NPCs, but also to attacks Mobile Objects (mobs). Usually the skill bar quarelats with number fors attacks, although some games create menus from which you must draw your skills.

Like wise classes usually share common types or roles. Tank, DPS, and support being the three most basic. From those different combination and specialties can be drawn.

So how does this effect games and the future of MMOs?

Well many games will play off of stereotypes, continueing to settle for the stereotypcial Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs (EDO games :P ) this theme has honestly been done to death (beating a dead horse, etc). Even in new games that reuse this idea they will be popular for at least a time because this theme has a large fan base. But if the game itself does not do anything extremely impressive then it will not ultimatley succeed. I personally believe that from an MMO stand point EQ and EQ2 have this market cornered, not the best but simply one of the first and oldest. Likewise games like WoW and WARhammer etc will flourish becuase of a large fan base to that particular name, even if the game istelf begins to struggle. A good example of this is Star Wars Galaxies, which has begun to waver dramaticaly from many vantage points; but still some people cling to it as an incredible game simply because of the Star Wars name and will easily chew me out if I say otherwise.

Some games come up with something innovative though and move the market forward. I believe FFXI was one of these games (although I did not personally enjoy playing it) I can really see how it moved the industry forward with its unique style of play and cross-platform appeal. AoC is another example. These games original ideas will be taken manipulated and applied to the more stereotypical market once they are deemed safe. However these leading innovators often forget they are building a game, and a game will be beaten. They will get wrapped up in their new stuff and not truly finish the game (drastically underestemating the power players).

So as it stands what the game industry needs, must have, is a game that is massive in deisgn and intention. To rewrite stereotypical lore and create something new and unique to it, be large and robust allowing players a depth of content on fathomable by comparison. Release a game that is so vast that even in its new state carries more grandure then the most veterans of games. That appeals to every lvl of player. The Utopia of all MMOs.

Is this possible maybe, but unlikely.

The real trouble is whether the consumers at this point would be willing to except it. And I have spent my dear time reading blogs and posts and have come up a ressounding 'NO' the average MMO player will not allow the gaming industry to progress forward in MMO development. Why? I call it the WoW Cult Mentality. Basicly most players are stuck in the infant stages of MMO adapted Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs. They are stuck in the Psylogical in the basics of the gamng world, simply having something to play and liking it. Something that fulfills the inate gamer need. Some have moved beyond that to needing a better safer game that is stable, some need a game that truly player friendly and where they reach out and truly interact with others. But few move beyond this. This is where the gaming industry will grow stagnent by palyers who say 'we accept this'. Instead we need players to say no we need something more, something bolder, something better. We need players who strive to see a game succeed but understand the flaws in ever game that does. To objectively look at the best of games and say this is where we can improve. Players who say 'I want something BOLD' in order to move the industry forward.

Of course maybe that's just me trying to challenge the sunrise.